All we’ve heard is how amazing this film is, and Toni Collette is perhaps my favorite living actress who is not Glenda Jackson, and here she gets to carry a whole movie! And it looked like it had a lot of good parts, and I’m happy to see anything where the horror is quiet and family-based, and looks quite unnerving. So there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to see this. But… you know that thing where you’re watching a trailer, and it just has so much disparate, wild stuff in it that you start to think “How are they going to fit all of that into one movie?” (and still have it be good?). And the answer here is… this movie is so overstuffed with good technique and good images that it ultimately cancels itself out and becomes bad (and worse: BORING). And dear hot young new directors: DO NOT EVER, EVER, EVER HAVE YOUR HORROR FILM BE OVER 90 MINUTES. This is for your own good. You might also think seriously about hiring an actual writer, too.
Blah, blah, the difficult mother died, the difficult daughter is still around, the son is a pothead, and the dad is emotionally closed off. Mom makes little miniature scenes from her life as art, which offers a lot of opportunity for us to see real rooms as miniatures and vice versa. I’ll state up front that the director possesses lot of great technique, and he thankfully eschews jump scares in favor of a more lingering, creeping dread, which is always welcome. He tips his hand early on when he shows disturbing writing on the wall, which, if you’ve seen your fair share of movies, you’ll know what that means—and it does to turn out to mean exactly that. And that character you thought might be more sinister than they appear, is indeed exactly what you thought. And it all builds (taking forever to do it) to pretty much the exact conclusion you expect, albeit with a few characters and events switched around.
But is it fun and entertaining to get there? It might have been if it was only 90 minutes. During the last 30 minutes I was just rolling my eyes and trying to fall asleep. The director has a lot of tools in his toolbox—and he uses every single one of them, sometimes multiple times. There are a lot of good scares. There are SO many of them. There are TOO many of them. It might be overestimating it to say there’s a scare every three minutes, but I would say every five minutes is not at all a stretch. And after a point it’s just exhausting, and it just stops working, because it robs the movie of having a shape, and a momentum. So let me be clear—the technique is extremely impressive. The problem is that there’s just SO MUCH of it, and it never lets up.
The other problem is the writing. It’s just not that well-written. None of the characters has an arc, or develops in any way (except from crazy to crazier). Dad, played by Gabriel Byrne (and why are we hearing nothing about his performance, btw? It’s excellent), is just a blank wall of “emotionally reserved.” We don’t explore his role in the family or how he affects their dynamic. The pothead son is responsible for something terrible happening, yet his character, nor any of them, grows or changes from the experience. Collette’s character, who gets the most lines, also doesn’t grow or change throughout the movie, except to grow more and more extreme. And all of them are blank walls—we are plunked down into a pre-existing dynamic with very little insight into how it got that way, and it doesn’t change throughout the movie.
There is a lot good about it, and if it were trimmed down to 90 minutes, it would probably be much better. There’s a great movie in here (the familiarity of the ultimate mystery notwithstanding), but maybe the director should have saved something for next time.