Reviewed by: Zombie Boy
Amber Joy Williams
What's it about
A dysfunctional family attempts to sort out their problems with a move to a secluded house in a wooded area of Connecticut with disastrous results.
Is it good movie?
The Poe family has some problems, which on the surface donít seem much different than any other family. Mom and Dad, as psychologist and pastor, respectively, are at ideological odds. Dad drinks a little too much, ostensibly due to his past as an abused child, and mom tends to treat her own children as subjects rather than people. And the children. Oy vey. That is where the problems begin to run a little deeper and a little more disturbing. They are sociopathically antisocial at best, with downright psychopathic tendencies. As their behavior descends into increasingly bizarre and violent acts, Mom and Dadís relationship deteriorates as each uses their own tools to treat the problem. Are the children merely chemically imbalanced, or is there a sinister paranormal force at work in the house?
I wanted to like this movie. I tried really hard, especially since it was filmed in Newtown, CT, a town I pass by every day on my way to and from work. Hell, I used to weekend warrior with a band centralized there. But, alas, the movie worked against my hopes. As you might guess from the name of the film, it is told entirely through handheld digital video, shot by the cast members themselves. This is a device that, despite manic producer Andrew van den Houtenís assertion in the making of doc, is becoming increasingly tired. I forgave it in Cloverfield because the rest of the movie was so entertaining, and I forgave it in Quarantine because they actually explained why the camera stayed on later in the proceedings (for the light in the dark). I cannot forgive it here. The herky-jerky, headache-inducing camera motion is not mitigated by an interesting or engaging story.
Right off the bat, there is not even a scrap of story presented to the audience in an organic way. You get hit with plot points like a wet fish to the face. At best the expositive dialog is tedious, and at worst it is boldfaced non-sequitur. We find out that Dad is a pastor when he is all of a sudden wearing priestly vestments during Thanksgiving dinner (a good way into the film), and demanding the children pray before they are allowed to eat. Given his manic demeanor leading up to this, and his penchant for theatrics (later on, at Easter time, he dons a bright pink bunny suit, ala A Christmas Story) I at first assumed this to be a joke, some strange affectation to lighten up the dour mood created by the creepy children. But that occupation was necessary to make the leap to a possible haunting figure living in the kidsí closet, which is similarly made with no foreplay. The director apparently feels no need to lube us up before he rams the story in our collective poopers.
Then there is the issue of flow, or the lack thereof. The first thirty minutes of this seventy-seven minute film are a trying experience, to put it mildly. A lot of Pasdar mugging and the children doing and saying little to nothing. After that point, it actually picks up a little. Some explanation is attempted at why the parents seem so nonplussed, for a while, at their childrenís bizarre mannerisms, and things look set to acquire a brisk pace, and make the set up worth it. Except they donít. Apparently the shred of engaging cinema held out to us wasnít for keepsies, and things retrograde back to their usual stilted and annoying manner. Logic problems abound, and the less than thrilling conclusion is telegraphed and anticlimactic to the nth degree. There is nothing here that we havenít already seen done, and much better at that, in countless other films. Go rent The Brood, instead.
Video / Audio
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen, 1.78:1.
Audio: Dolby Surround 5.1
Along with the standard trailer (which kind of gives a lot away, imo) there is a making of documentary. To the writer/directorís credit, he tells tale of how the original script was written as something that could be done on a small scale, over a few weekends, with a couple friends and some cases of beer. This film may in fact be the only example of being hurt by having a budget.
A trite presentation gimmick and well-worn plot devices conspire with a first-time director and a pushy producer to deliver a film that has no depth for the narrative to dig into, as hard as it may try, resulting in a five-car pile up on the cinematic highway. I honestly canít think of one person to recommend this mess to. Sorry, fellas. An earnest try was made, to be sure. Better luck next time.