Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

dir-scr Zach Cregger
prd Arnon Milchan, Roy Lee, JD Lifshitz, Raphael Margules
with Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgard, Justin Long, Matthew Patrick Davis, Richard Brake, Kurt Braunohler, Jaymes Butler, Sophie Sorensen, Rachel Fowler, JR Esposito, Kate Nichols, Kate Bosworth
release US 9.Sep.22,
UK 28.Oct.22
22/US 1h42

skarsgard long bosworth
fright fest

Is it streaming?

long and campbell
Opening like a romantic comedy with the odd jump scare, this movie plays with the audience at every step, continually shifting in new directions as writer-director Zach Cregger keeps the audience off balance. Early red herrings pile atop sinister undertones before full-on horror arrives, leading to a breathless final act. So even without much story logic, up-for-it viewers will have a lot of fun along the way.
Arriving in a grim Detroit neighbourhood on a rainy night, Tess (Campbell) discovers that Keith (Skarsgard) has double-booked her Airbnb. He seems nice enough, and she overcomes her doubts about the situation, so they agree to share the house. Then in the morning, she gets locked in the basement and discovers a secret room. And Keith finds an even deeper maze of tunnels. Meanwhile in California, the house's actor owner AJ (Long) finds himself accused of assault and heads to Detroit for business. But he has no idea what's been going on in his house.
Set out in chapters, including a 40-years-ago flashback, the film cleverly alternates between brightly sunny scenes rippling with dry humour and grisly nastiness with a super-powered mama (Davis) who rules the tunnels. Each disparate element adds to the narrative, which never quite holds up to scrutiny. Indeed, it falls to pieces if examined, hinging on several implausible gimmicks. But it's a lot of fun to shout at the screen when characters continually do unbelievably stupid things.

Campbell is terrific in the heroic role, a sharp, level-headed woman caught up in something unimaginable. Although she doesn't know enough to resist walking down a creepy set of pitch-black stairs under a house in a jarringly horrible neighbourhood. Her scenes with Skarsgard are superbly played, as he riffs on his on-screen image as a nice guy who must be hiding something. And then there's Long, who also subverts his persona, playing someone with so many failings that he probably deserves whatever karma is heading his way.

Cregger has fun lobbing cultural references and barbed throwaway lines into the dialog, then twisting his characters into knots of awkwardness. This makes each of them sympathetic to a degree, so when things begin to turn fatal quite early on, the stakes feel unnervingly high. And the topical nods add to the tone as well, from the dying neighbourhood to police who are staggeringly unhelpful. None of it hangs together in a meaningful way, but as an exercise in freaking out an audience, Cregger gets it just right.

cert 18 themes, language, violence 24.Oct.22

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© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall