Set in the 1980’s, a college student Samantha takes a strange babysitting job that seems too good to be true.
During the 1980s over 70% of American adults believed in the existence of abusive Satanic Cults…
Another 30% rationalized the lack of evidence due to government cover ups…
The following is based on true unexplained events.
This slow meandering movie opens with these low key words, and uses hallmarks of decades gone by to make a horror movie that works to greater effect than some of the movies its paying homage to. It seems like a perfect storm of the early horror techniques wile using the modern sensibilities of filmmaking to apply them. The film goes so far to have used 18mm film to give it a retro look that feels uncomfortable in the digital format and combined with the opening words left, at least, me already looking for the scares.
The movie introduces Samantha, or Sam, staring out a window pulled into a tight zoom you don’t see lately, it feels like a voyeur’s camera, watching something that is private and is bordering on obscene to look upon. This quiet reflective moment is up when Dee Wallace as ‘The Landlord’ makes her appearance. From the moment she showed up I was quick to start looking for the creepy moments, my mind ran wild about how she was too accommodating to the young student and there had to be something wrong with her or the house for it to be this easy. The movie latches on to this feeling and doesn’t let it go.
Directed by Ty West (The Roost, Trigger Man, The Innkeepers), he foregoes the regular convention of action beats to keep the normally easily distracted audience interested, and instead uses a Alfred Hitchcock like approach to with some misdirection and building of tension. Making scenes uncomfortable with in-camera zooms, walking with the camera instead of using tracks and then little things like not letting the audience listen to the music the lead character has over her headphones. The tropes in this movie feel a little awkward and clumsy as a wink and a nod to how they come across the movies the film is paying homage to.
The primary lead of Samantha played by Jocelin Donahue, is serviceable, she feels like she was directed to be a little awkward in the beginning in contrast to her seemingly genuine fear shown later in the movie. Ti doesn’t overly describe the character of Sam, he doesn’t make a point of saying she is a virgin, he doesn’t make a point of saying she is independent, and he doesn’t make a point of saying that she studious, he just lets the audience glean this information from scenes. This is a nice change from being beaten over the head with character development in recent years.
Next to Sam is Megan played by Greta Gerwig, as the every-person in the movie, she says the things that the audience is thinking and calls Sam out on the stupid choices she makes. She gets the fun lines, the one who gets to drive, the devil-may-care attitude while she wants to take care, or help take care of her friend.
The antagonists are Mister and Misses Ulman and there son Victor and Mrs. Ulman’s unnamed mother. Victor is a grunt with little characterization, and Mrs. Ulman’s mother comes late enough in the movie that I am going to make you watch the movie if you want to know more about her. Misses Ulman is played by Mary Woronov and is just straight two dimensional creepy. There isn’t anything really deep to her other than looking at everyone like they are a piece of savory meat. She does this well, but her scenes feel like they just have to be there. Mister Ulman on the other hand is what this movie is worth watching for.
Tom Noonan, who from this point on I am only ever going to refer to him as The Noonan, turns the convention of this character, or at least the cliché of what this character normally is on its head. Most famous for his turn as the intimidating and formidable Francis Dollarhyde in 1986’s Manhunter (the superior version of Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon). The moment I saw him I kept waiting for this monster to break free, I wanted to see Mr. Dollarhyde playing the wolf in sheep’s clothing but it never quite happens. He was 58 at the time of filming, but is still an intimidating man. He plays this quiet older man who is concerned about his wife and his wife’s mother; he is a very sincere man who just wants things to go as planned. He never raises his voice, never does anything overly physical or intentionally intimidating. This may be The Noonan’s greatest performance if only because it is against type, genre and his film history. It would have been so easy to let him go off the rails and go full beast mode. The Noonan could still do a damn fine beast mode, and this movie is so much better for having this gentle character in the midst of the creepy and the scares.
The short and skinny of this is movie is I enjoyed the hell out of it. It gave me pieces of movies I didn’t even realize I was looking for in modern horror and did it better than a lot of the horror that made up my late 70’s, early 80’s sensibilities, nostalgia not withstanding.