runtime=1 Hours 33 minutes;
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I watched this film with low expectations on a rainy evening and was at first pleasantly surprised. In the initial 15 minutes the film promised to be a hidden gem: well shot, well acted, with a good score and the conflict and motivations for the main characters was competently set up with the introduction of the father’s new love interest. The first scene of the villains leaves no doubt that the seemingly fractured main characters will have to band together in face of a real threat. So far so good.
*Spoilers from here on out*
Right off the bat it’s clear that one of the good characters will die. It won’t be the black female, it won’t be the little boy, so it’s pretty clear who it will be. The dad. It was also clear that at least one of the dogs would be killed. Initially I thought Becky and her new stepmom would band together ending with adoption, but it’s not that kind of movie, and their relationship is never established beyond initial dislike. The dad is the only character with any real connection to the sadly underdeveloped main character, and the prospective stepmom and her son are relegated to spending the entire rest of the movie on a couch with nothing to do. The movie could have functioned just as well without them. What a waste. While Amanda Brugel’s acting stuck out as subpar, the little boy’s dread was believable, and it would have been interesting to see Becky have to protect him with both grown ups out the picture instead. That would have upped the stakes.
The problem with thriller films arises when you can predict what comes next. It ruins the suspense. If the villains are to be established as properly evil, they can kill random passerbys, fishermen, the neighbors, etc. Don’t kill off the character with the most interesting motivation so far (the father who wanted to reconnect to his daughter while dealing with her rejection of the new stepmom.
The villains are given very little characterization. Slapping a swastika on the villain and making them aryan brotherhood thugs seemed like a last minute addition since it never affects the plot. It also hits the viewer over the head with a “you’re supposed to hate these guys” message, instead of having the villains initially appear friendly, letting Kevin James’ natural charisma deceive the main cast about his true nature and intentions.
Once the dad is offed, the entire narrative grinds to a halt, all character development save for one side character stops and the film becomes a simple slasher in the woods flick. This feels like a slap in the face after the initial promise of decently structured story.
The only real ray of light comes from Robert Maillet who turns in a surpisingly nuanced performance portraying an enforcer torn between loyalty, guilt and conscience. I found myself caring more about him than any other character at that point in the film. His death is supposed to be surprising, but it’s just another eye rolling attempt of the film to be edgy. They try to portray Becky as a kind of Harley Quinn or Hit Girl, a force of chaos who embarks on a frenzied killing spree. It doesn’t work with a 13 year old girl, and definitely not in a setting that started as serious as this.
So a film that begins as a character driven thriller ends up as a very sloppy cross between home alone (minus the traps) and friday the 13th, with gory kills using garden tools. While the first kill is somewhat surprising, you expect it for all later ones. If a thriller or horror movie can’t surprise the audience, it fails. Predictability and poor story structure killed what started as a promising little film.
It’s not a complete waste. The pacing and editing is good. The music and atmosphere is great, with little shots of nature spliced between scenes (the director have seen a Terence Mallick movie before. The acting is good almost across the board. Robert Maillet shows that he’s highly capable as an actor, and studios would do well to remember his name. The director is no Tarantino, but is clearly talented and with a better script could likely helm a strong film. Very rarely have I seen a film with so much talent evident that failed so strongly.
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