From first time Director, Joel Edgerton (also writer) comes a creepy, disturbing and engaging, psychological horror thriller that plays a consistent game of cat and mouse with the audience, subverting expectations and crafting an unnerving and at times, grotesque story.
A very middle class, but wealthy couple, Simon and Robyn, Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall, move to a new house in the hills of LA, where Simon runs into a former high school acquaintance, who starts to creep them out by sending them gifts and constantly coming over. When Simon attempts to ‘break it off’, Gordo, triple threat Joel Edgerton again, drops hints that there’s something in their past that Simon was ignoring and starts to become an all together more menacing presence.
Without giving too much away, this is a film that you should know as little about as possible going into it, and as the film steers itself into a number of surprising and interesting areas, we are given a dark chiller thriller that won’t necessarily leave you with a set idea in your head. It’s a film that, whilst taking certain film making liberties, manages to present a far greyer depiction of good and bad then you’d expect.
What works about it, is that it takes many of great horrors, most famous tropes, In particular the workaholic yuppy alike husband, the wife who works at home and is dealing with a past trauma that’s causing her many restless nights, and the tension of a new home, and makes them feel fresh and interesting. There’s a real sense of dread as the camera creeps around the cavernous corridors of their new large glass plated house, peering around corners and making it feel like there is always something in the darkness watching them.
It seems to be that the new haunted house these days, is a posh modern house with glass windows, where, during night scenes, the darkness is a pervading force, encroaching into the supposedly happy lives of the characters. This is amplified by the music, a subtle soundtrack that harkens back to horror decades past, much like ‘It Follows’ or ‘The Babadook’, but never being quite as inventive or interesting.
The script is sharp and streamlined, the film not wasting time, but not skipping the important stuff either. It lingers on what matters without ever feeling like its outstaying its welcome. The cinematography is simple, but stylish from Eduard Grau, whose work on ‘Buried’ gives this film a claustrophobic feeling that lingers even during outdoor scenes. A particularly striking shot of an out of focus Los Angeles skyline sticks in the mind and feels like a breath of fresh air, before we’re sucked back into the uneasy, queasy atmosphere of the house.
The performances from Bateman and Hall are excellent, Bateman drops his sarcastic comedic shtick and gives a layered and, every so often, repulsive performance. Hall, meanwhile, is the film’s clear protagonist, a damaged and distraught character who like many classic horror heroines, survives through strength of will and balances quiet depression with restrained distress. Edgerton, is initially a blank canvas, simply a creepy and plain guy, but eventually we end up seeing what’s going on behind the eyes, and his place in the film turns it into a classic three hander of tension and nerves.
Overall, I say this film is a quiet triumph, one that won’t set the box office on fire, but will garner respect from critics and anyone who sees it. This continues the trend of the last few years of producing interesting and engaging horror that harks back to the genre before the torture porn and jump scares of the 21st century.