Director: David Robert Mitchell
Starring: Maika Monroe, Daniel Zovatto
Set to an ominous, low-fi electronic soundtrack, the film opens with a creepy, subtly-building kill scene that's as bloody as it is artistic. We get introduced to main character Jay, a normal 20-something college girl who goes out on a date with a guy she's been seeing. The events start off innocuous but slightly creepy, tinged with it like a slab of slightly blackened meat. There's enough tension here and it's played out excellently so that you never really know when it's going to explode and deliver a Really Scary Moment (TM) – and when it does, it's not quite what you expect; being just a little bit off kilter.
Even in its most predictable moments, which are few, the scares are delivered with a sort of tongue-in-cheek irony that knows it's at least a bit silly – this isn't a movie that revels in overly serious exposition or one that doesn't know when to laugh at itself. And the jump scare sounds are booming and loud – I mean, these jump scares are legitimately good; much better than some movies that just throw them anywhere. These ones are actually scary and not just used as cheap devices – they're done at moments that are really tense or funny enough that you're laughing along with the film.
I mentioned exposition, and the film really, really does THAT so much better than any other ones out there right now – a lot of movies will just shove in awkward exposition scenes because they have no other way to explain the supernatural stuff going on. This one has a really strange and out there plot, but the writing is talented enough to explain it and make those explanation scenes entertaining – one of them is heart-stoppingly set in the most jarring, bizarre scene in the film. The other major one has plenty of humor. You have to make the scenes where you're explaining the plot entertaining on their own – otherwise they're just meaningless info dumps, and it sucks ass.
The characters are fun. The dialogue is witty and lighthearted and makes you feel like you're just part of their weird little suburban white kid group, and they all have distinct personalities. There's a bit of romance here and there and the backgrounds between these characters is developed slowly, in a way that makes you want to know more. It's really quite well done and some of the best characters I've seen in a horror film lately.
The settings are really nice, with a lot of great cinematography that really sucks you in, and really artistic lighting that enhances the subtly bizarre mood going on. Great stuff.
And yeah, there's some vagueness and ambiguity to the plot, and the rules of the monster don't quite make sense 100% of the time – there's some inconsistencies and moments where it only seems to appear when most convenient for the characters, like really, it didn't try to get her when she was in a hospital bed for days? How considerate of it. But that stuff shouldn't make or break a movie with this much atmosphere and well-written scares in it. A plot that makes sense 100% of the time isn't always a 100% perfect movie; that's what some people don't get when discussing horror flicks. You complain about the “rules” of a movie like this, maybe you should go watch a documentary instead.
The scenes of the creepy thing just walking up from the distance to get her, over and over throughout the film, are just so good, and so scary. They're masterfully built up and strike a perfect balance between being subtle and overt – very cleverly, deftly written for a horror film, perfect for the style.
This is a movie you will be scared shitless of and also have a blast watching. It's retro but not imitative of any one movie. The writing is ingenious and the characters are quirky and relatable. The scares are incredibly well done. Along with Absentia and The Babadook, this is one of the first great horror movies of this decade. Go see it if you can.
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