It’s been a 50/50 year for horror. In my opinion, The Conjuring 2 set a pretty high water-mark for the year while crap like The Boy and The Forest were just a chore to watch. I had heard that James Wan was releasing another horror film and was super excited based on the first movie I just mentioned… but then it all came crashing down because I saw he was just listed as a producer and NOT the director. As a side note, I hate how some films try to come off like they’re “made by” or “from” certain big directors only to look it up and find out that they only served as producer, which is a much smaller creative role in the making of the film. However, did that bother me once the actual film started? Nope!
The story is this: young Martin’s (Gabriel Bateman) father is brutally killed by an entity some years ago and it has left his mother in a sort-of panicked state as she seems to be able to communicate with this entity in the dark. This leads to Martin’s older sister, Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) and her sorta-boyfriend Bret (Alexander DiPersia) to investigate the reasoning behind it and find a way to get rid of this thing that is causing so much anguish. There are plenty of plot twists that are revealed as the film progresses so I don’t want to give away too much here but I will just say that the film keeps you guessing and it’s a very tight 81 minutes. No filler here, folks.
The acting is quite good. Teresa Palmer plays Rebecca and does so with a lot more conviction than you usually see in these kinds of horror films. She is a strong female character and is in a role that usually goes to a male protagonist so it is refreshing to see her take the lead like this. One of her characteristics is that she is afraid of committment and that is also refreshing to see in a female lead role for once. Gabriel Bateman is a typical child actor; in some scenes he is good and in others he is almost cringe-worthy but he wasn’t particularly awful or anything – just average. Maria Bello does a superb job as Sophie, the mother that doesn’t quite have her head on a swivel and she does that kind of performance without it coming across as phony or hokey, which is tough. Last but not least is Alexander DiPersia who is also pretty good playing Palmer’s arm candy. I enjoyed the overall role reversal here and Alexander’s character is smart and cunning but also doesn’t need to be there to save the day like most male characters. He and Palmer have good on-screen chemistry as well.
I should mention the tension and the scares themselves because that is obviously a big part of a horror film. The premise of the film where this thing (named Diana) can only appear in complete darkness is a very good way to invoke fear in the viewer. Every time we see a dark scene our nerves go through the roof and we are just waiting for her to appear and do something horrible. The best example of how effective this can be is the first and last sequence of the film. The opening gets right to the action almost immediately and takes you for a ride while the last scene wraps everything up nicely with a grand finale of suspense and legitimate terror. The creation of Diana is very interesting too; they seem to adhere to the method of ‘less is more’ as we often see her in shadow but very rarely do we see a lot of specific features on her face (and when we do, it’s for a very brief period of time). This works well and reminds me of stuff like Jaws where we hardly ever saw the shark on-screen which made the scenes where we DID see it work so well.
The writing is pretty solid here too. What we’re dealing with is an 81-minute horror film so you pretty much have to open strong and cut right to the chase and then fill in the blanks as we progress through the story. We don’t stop for ten minutes to explain an entire backstory of any of the characters (there are a couple of scenes kind of like that but they’re fairly important and it never feels like exposition) nor do we have any paper-thin characters either, which is incredible for a film like this. There are a few instances of that tired horror trope of hearing a noise and then slowly sneaking up to see what it is only to be met with a big scare but that’s almost ingrained in these types of films now anyway so I always expect to see it.
Overall, it’s a very enjoyable experience. I’ve been on such a roll lately. Gotta have a bad movie at some point now…
* (Brutal; the worst rating)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)