I saw the trailer for this film in the theater recently and was pretty intrigued by it. For one thing, I love a good scary movie set in a spooky house, and for another, if it stars Tom Noonan, I can be sure it’s going to give me the creeps. Because, and I mean no disrespect to you, Mr. Noonan — you are an excellent actor and everything, sir — but dude, you are friggin’ creeparoo. Good god, y’all.
When I saw that this movie, which is in theaters now, could also be rented from Amazon via my much-beloved Roku box, I resisted at first. They’ve started to offer newly released (to theaters) movies periodically at Amazon and through other On Demand services, and while it’s a nice idea, they cost about the same as seeing the movie on the big screen. Given the equal option, I’d rather make the trek out.
But the other night I found myself home alone, in the mood, and without transportation, so I decided to give it a whirl. Big mistake.
As it turns out, I think this movie can probably only be appreciated on the big screen. In my opinion, the main character of this film is the house itself — it’s certainly not any of the actual people, who are just ridiculously dull horror flick clichés — and on the small screen, the house isn’t as great as I think maybe it could’ve been. Maaaaaybe it could’ve been. It’s big and spooky and full of interesting things, but they were hard to see on my small, dark screen. Blown up huge in a theater, I think the house would’ve created a better feeling of creepy enclosure. And had it pulled that off, it might’ve made the first 80 minutes of this 96-minute movie (during which almost nothing of any real import happens) effectively boring instead of excruciatingly boring.
The story is about a young woman named Samantha (Jocelin Donahue, an 8.5 on the Blah Scale for me, I’m afraid), who has taken a babysitting job for the evening in a big house in the middle of nowhere in the woods.
First mistake (on Samantha’s part): Location, location, location!
When she knocks on the door, who should answer but Tom Noonan! (And let me tell you this, if I ever go to a big spooky house in the middle of nowhere in the woods and Tom Friggin’ Noonan answers the door, I am running in the other direction without so much as a “Loved you in The Man with One Red Shoe!”). He explains that, sorry, he lied in the ad for the job — he doesn’t have any children. What he really needs is someone to watch his elderly mother for four hours. And he’s desperate. He’ll pay anything. How’s $400?
Second mistake: Sound insanely too good to be true? Then it is both of those things. Too good to be true. AND INSANE.
Third mistake: Creepy guy starts talking Mommy? Time. To. Go.
Samantha takes the job and we then join her for the next 70 minutes as she pokes around the house, completely bored. And while I could see the filmmakers were trying to use this quiet time with dramatic purpose — to lull us a bit, to let the dark walls of the house sort of slowly creep in around us — it was just way too much lulling for me, over all. I was practically lulled straight into a nap, frankly.
The only things keeping me awake were the many, many elements that made no sense. Let’s start with the fact the house seemed primarily lit by the coming-through-the-windows blast of one hell of a bright moon. Why is that an issue? Because the whole reason Samantha was needed as a babysitter in the first place was so the Noonans could go watch the impending total lunar eclipse. (Apparently, they needed to drive into the city for that, because everybody knows you can’t see astronomical phenomena from way out in the middle of nowhere in the woods. (Wait, what?))
Another thing that made me tip my head “Oh, really?”-style was when Samantha knocks over a vase and then dashes immediately to the very spot in the house where the broom and dustpan are kept. Nice trick! I can’t even find those two items in my own house, and I live there! And then, while sweeping up the broken glass, she’s suddenly drawn to a closet down the hall. Why? Because opening closets in spooky houses is SPOOOOOKY! Opening the door, creeeeeeeak, she finds, gasp! The fur coats Noonan’s wife had said were in the basement! OH MY GOD, SHE LIED ABOUT THE FUR COATS!
Wait, I’m sorry. Why is that. . . oh, nevermind.
When the action finally does start — it turns out Noonan and his family are religious wackos who want to sacrifice Samantha or knock her up with a devil baby or something — it simply doesn’t do a good enough job to make it feel like all that waiting was worth it. Samantha does get to run around in a white shift soaked completely in the blood they were trying to make her drink — that’s always good, creepy fun. But for the most part, the last 15 minutes are just a silly chase scene through the house featuring three idiot bad guys and their extremely dumb prey. It’s like an amalgam of every dumb horror-movie-character mistake ever made, and despite the fact it was clear this film was supposed to be an homage, of sorts, to 80’s horror flicks, I don’t think this was being done on purpose.
Examples: Samantha runs up the stairs instead of out the front door. She knocks out the guy with the gun, but doesn’t TAKE the gun. The bad lady turns her back on a subdued Sam without first disarming her. The bad guy talks first, plans to shoot later. Eighth mistake. Ninth mistake. Tenth. I would’ve been hoarse from yelling at every one of these characters for fifteen straight minutes, as they compounded incredibly stupid error upon incredibly stupid error, but to be honest, I just didn’t CARE.
This was the best you could do, Ti West? I don’t believe you. I just do not believe this is the best you could do.
(Except, of course, now I totally want to see it on the big screen to see if it really makes any difference in the mood. It might, you know. It might even be worth another $7.50 to find out. If I do, I’ll be sure to report back.)
[Prequeue at Netflix | Watch trailer]
Cast: Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Greta Gerwig, Mary Woronov, Dee Wallace