Written by Neil Cross and Andy & Barbara Muscietti
The month of January is usually reserved for some much needed catch-up on films from the previous year for me. January is often synonymous with a wasteland for cinematic missteps that have been laid out to die, or perhaps their releases have been pushed with the hope of awards season success not even a prayer, let alone a reality. Needless to say, I usually do not get out to see many January releases. However, the inclusion of actress Jessica Chastain has piqued my interest in a genre in which I otherwise would easily admit no real interest: horror. So this time I managed to get up off my couch, forgo the Redbox on the way, and plop my rump down in a theater seat for a January film.
Ominous from the start, the film opens after a businessman, set off by a stock market crach, wrecks his car in the middle of upstate New York wilderness after kidnapping his children. He and his two daughters, Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Isabelle Nelisse), make their way to an abandoned cabin where the father is mysteriously killed. Five years later, the children's uncle (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) has not given up hope of finding his daughters. When they are finally discovered in the same abandoned cabin, in a shocking and maladjusted state, a psychologist (Daniel Kash) helps the uncle and his bass player girlfriend (Jessica Chastain) attempt to care for them. But the girls are followed from the wilderness by a spirit that begins to terrorize the adults.
What truly amazed me with this film was its ability to actually be scary. As I said before, I am not big on the horror genre, though there are the few I greatly admire (Halloween, Scream, The Silence of the Lambs), and the biggest reason is that I just don't tend to scare very easily. The "horror" of this film managed to be quite effective for most of the film. It gave me the willies at certain points. It does contain its fair share of shock scares, which seems unavoidable in this day and age unfortunately, but the mood which was set early on really set the table for the creepiness to be effective. The cinematography was quite nice as well, most notably a stunning flashback scene that looked amazing. Even if the bleak palette which horror films demand caused Chastain to lose her fiery locks, the cinematography is definitely a strength.
However (oh yes, there is a however), the film has its problems, which were ultimately difficult for me to overcome. The mood which made the scares so effective early on, and in fact made the plot interesting, gives way to a wacky third act which seems to drag just a bit too long. Where there were once stakes and intrigue, now there seems to be little, as the film's focus seems to want to shift to the big finish, leaving much of what had been established behind. Without getting into spoilers, there are certain parts of the film which felt quickly discarded or completely forgotten about.
Jessica Chastain is quite good here, as expected. Hers is easily the most interesting character as a woman not yet ready to be a mother, forced into the role when her boyfriend's nieces are found. And due to circumstances, she becomes the central character is does a great job of holding the film together and driving it forward with her performance. All of the other performances are fine as well, but Chastain is the standout. The film ended up being somewhat of a disappointment, despite the low expectations entering the film. But it was disappointing only because it was exceeding those low expectations only to give way to cheap scares and an ending which wasted what the fimmakers had been building for the entire rest of the film.
**1/2 - Good