By JAMES TUCKER
Starring: Carrie Preston, Rob Benedict, William Smillie
Directed by Caitlin Koller
Written by Seana Kofoed
Produced by Film Camp Productions
I’m sorry, but I’m going to be really mean to this one y’all.
I was really looking forward to my return to Shudder: so many excellent films have been released on the platform since I last visited it. I even took a break from watching films on other services to squeeze in a review of Host, a refreshingly original film that legitimately spooked me. I can’t wait to cover films like The Shed, Mortuary, and all the upcoming films Shudder will be releasing for their 61 Days of Halloween. Unfortunately, the first film I decided to watch was this one. In my defense, it sounded like a promising cabin-in-the-woods style haunting film that would leverage the conflicts between its characters in interesting ways. I wasn’t expecting a boneless, bloodless, cliché-filled romp into the depths of modern horror mediocrity. But, as you can probably tell, that’s what I got.
First, let me address the elephant in the room. These characters are legitimately some of the most awful human beings I have ever had the displeasure of following onscreen. Think Eleanor Shellstrop’s character from The Good Place, only there’s about six of them and (with one or two exceptions) none of them have the slightest interest in improving themselves. The primary interest of these characters seems to be posthumously shitting on their dead friend, cheating on their partners (and even each other) with each other, and dredging up old conflicts just cause. At first I was compelled by how flawed they all were, wondering how it would play into the plot and how the antagonist would exploit their differences; by the 20 minute mark, I realized that all of these people were innately fucking horrible, and by the 40 minute mark I was ready for all of them to die. Horribly. For some context, Larry (Rob Benedict) is chiefly proud of how many of his friends’ girlfriends he was able to sleep with, and Jack (Postelli Pringle) is not only borderline abusive to his girlfriend Amber (Marielle Scott), but has sex with Bess (Cathy Shim, whose character is married) while Amber is in the other room.
“The only truly bad films are mediocre ones, and this film combines a mediocre plot with bad characters and a bloodless climax.”
Unfortunately, this film really, REALLY takes it’s time before it puts any of these characters in serious danger. The early signs of Paranormal Activity (see what I did there?) that we see in this film are as stereotypical as they come, putting nobody in danger and even (in some cases) not being witnessed by the characters. It’s the equivalent of Toby dropping a characters’ keys on the floor just for the laughs, over and over and over again for 40 plus minutes. When the “ghost” does decide to show itself, it still does nothing to harm any of our main characters; it seems content to simply present itself and reenact its suicide over and over again. This is a haunting a-la 13 Reasons Why, and much like the oft-maligned show, it did NOT achieve its desired effect on its audience. When you set an audience up with such inherently dislikeable characters, the audience tends to expect a comeuppance, and a BLOODY one at that: the writer apparently missed that memo, and is content to just let them run around screaming when Max goes “BOO.”
The film only really picks up in the last twenty minutes or so, and by that time you’ll most likely have seen its twist coming. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you the film hadn’t mostly lost me by this point, but I was vaguely interested in seeing these characters die horribly. The only thing I can say without spoilers is that in the end, this film does not deliver. Well, that and the ending stretches the limits of my credulity and my patience, being singularly the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen or heard of since I started writing for this column. I understand they wanted to go for a feel-bad ending, but the way in which they did it… I mean, you can’t tell me that someone didn’t look that part of the script over and think “nah, this would never actually happen… but it’s a movie, and as I’m going to have one character say, ‘we still gotta have an ending.’”
And another thing: this movie thinks it’s so smart. Dropping a reference to King Lear as a misdirect, a “wink-wink-nudge-nudge” to the five English majors watching who’ve read that specific Shakespeare work. Having the antagonist at the end speak in meta as they try and spin the events of the film into some grotesque meditation on art and science. It all amounts to yet another “aren’t people terrible to one another” message that would fill clinical if it weren’t so damn cliché, and if the antagonist hadn’t picked the worst test subjects in the known universe. The audience, and the characters, KNOW that our main characters will be horrible to one another if given the chance and are terrible people by any standard; despite what the antagonist asserts, this is not “the perfect Petri dish of boring middle class America” by any mode of interpretation. Especially given the bloodless nature of the climax, it all feels like a massive, overly preachy waste of time.
I think I’ve ranted enough. I’m giving this a 1. Yes, that’s probably the lowest score I’ve given so far. The bottom line is, if you’re looking for something to watch on Shudder, there are so many better films available on the platform.
Next time, I’m going to be digging into one of those.