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Review by Rich Cline |
dir Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala
scr Sergio Casci, Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala
prd Aliza James, Simon Oakes, Aaron Ryder
with Riley Keough, Jaeden Martell, Lia McHugh, Richard Armitage, Alicia Silverstone, Danny Keough, Katelyn Wells, Lola Reid, Rebecca Faulkenberry
release UK Oct.19 lff,
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
There's a staggeringly bleak sensibility to this gothic horror movie. Without being particularly scary, it's an unnerving freak-out simply because it gets under the skin. Austrian filmmakers Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala throw all kinds of nasty things at the screen to add intrigue and unease. It's skilfully shot and edited, with a terrific sense of the settings and a steady stream of inventive visual and thematic touches.
When her marriage collapses, Laura (Silverstone) is understandably angry at Richard (Armitage), refusing to let their children Aidan and Mia (Martell and McHugh) spend time with his new girlfriend Grace (Keough). And the kids are understandably wary of Grace's past as lone survivor of a mass-suicide cult. So Richard proposes a lakeside Christmas holiday, to get to know each other. Then he's called back to the office for a few days, after which a snowstorm cuts the cabin off without power or phones. And when odder things start happening, Grace doubts her sanity.
Playing with atmosphere, the filmmakers fill each frame with nutty bits of madness, from saints and crucifixes on walls to a sinister Santa ornament. There's even a gun in a box. The lodge itself is replicated as Mia's over-sized dollhouse, populated by handmade Barbie-sized dolls that seem to have a life of their own as they represent this nuclear family. And the house sits on an expansive frozen lake, which the filmmakers also use in suitable ways.
As the interloper, Keough is terrific. With her shady background, Grace is introduced in fine horror-movie style. She seems nice enough, at least when she's on her meds. But she can't quite win over these observant kids. Both Martell and McHugh are superb as stubborn youngsters unwilling to forgive their father for what he's done to their family. As these three characters become stranded in this cabin in the woods, all manor of nightmares emerge, and the actors sell each crazy element with intelligence and skill.
The filmmakers are juggling with ideas about mental illness. So when the snowstorm buries everything, there are shivery echoes of Kubrick's The Shining. Frankly, it's far too bonkers to actually be frightening, but some crashing edits help keep the audience on the edge, as do continuous visual flourishes, including menacing memories Grace has about her murderous father (played by the Keough's real dad). Franz and Fiala took their killer ideas even further with 2014's Goodnight Mommy. But this movie will leave viewers almost as shaken.
R E A D E R R E V I E W SStill waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.
© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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