My Rating: 3 stars
I have a lot of feelings about this movie. And, a lot of other people did as well. This is a very unconventional horror/psychological thriller starring Toni Collette. And, I had heard from plenty of viewers that they absolutely loved the movie—that it was tense, and suspenseful, and very creepy. But, I heard from others that they thought it was trite and stupid. Almost no one thought it was just ok. I trust the judgement of most everyone that I heard from. So, I had no idea which camp I would fall into. After having watched the film, I can say that neither of those criticisms is wrong. But I ultimately fell into the “movie is stupid” camp for a number of reasons. Honestly, both arguments really do have merit. The movie really is as tense and creepy as its proponents say, but I found that the story ad too many flaws for me to overlook.
This is a spooky movie about dark goings-on at the Graham family home. Annie (Toni Collette) is trying to come to terms with the death of her mother, whom she hated and feared. That kind of situation can really do a number on you psychologically. She feels guilty for feeling so relieved by the death of a very horrible person. And, this kind of conflict isn’t the best for Annie’s family. Her relationship with her husband is strained. And, her kids are acting out in troubling ways. The tension that this story line creates sets the perfect stage for a psychological drama. And, it really is quite suspenseful. The tension just keeps building and building. And, it features moments of real, grisly horror (probably some of the most gruesome and surprising I’ve seen in a while). But, I felt like the writing was a little lazy.
In a suspense movie that features a central mystery, the screenplay is usually sprinkled with clues and red herrings, and it’s all supposed to come together in the end for a (hopefully) surprising ending. In a good script, enough clues will be there so that a very insightful viewer could potentially solve the mystery, but the clues shouldn’t be so obvious that the whole plot is projected for anyone with eyes and ears. Of course, writers don’t have to stick to a formula. It’s often fun when they try experimental things. But, I get annoyed when a screenwriter, with all these narratives tools available, can’t pull a story together in a satisfying way. And, I was disappointed with how this movie ties things up. It took a very sinister story, developed the plot and characters in very meaningful ways, and then the explanation for the central mystery turned out to be just the first red herring we see. I felt that the climax fell pretty flat.
I realize that this review seems a bit harsh, and it makes it sound like I didn’t like the film at all. But, I did find things to like about it. I really do like creepy horror films. And, this film captures the right aesthetic, and ominous feel. And, if you like horror movies, this one does have a few tricks up its sleeve. But, I don’t think it’s necessary viewing.