After their parents' death, the Rademacher twins travel to Michigan to close the family home. While there, they discover that they aren't alone and must fight for survival -- a fight that continues long after the violence ends.
April 1, 2016
Jerry J. White III
Jerry J. White III
Schell M. Peterson
There are times when a film comes up in your reviewing queue that – following the screening – you can’t quite express the overall impression the picture left. Such is the case with the forthcoming film, The Horror. Certain aspects delighted, while others seemed unclear. Despite its namesake, it’s not a horror film (by any stretch of the imagination) but it falls easily into “psychological thriller” territory.
Malcolm and Isabell (“Izzy”) Rademacher (Raymond Creamer and Callie Ott, respectively) are college-aged twins, trying to get through life and regroup after a double-whammy of tragedy. Their parents died in a fiery car accident a year before, and when they return to the family lake-house (in a very deserted and seasonal Michigan town) with their significant others – in some attempt to face their lingering grief – they eventually have a random face-off with some masked intruders (an intensely creepy visual, as those breaking into the house wear old-school gas masks). Much of the film is told in flashback as Isabell recounts and recuperates in the presence of her therapist, Dr. Kristen Scheidler (Schell M. Peterson). Following the tragedies, Malcolm goes down a wormhole of grief, confusion, obsession and anger, while Isabell becomes more and more afraid of what he will do in his delicate mental state.
The three lead performances in The Horror are all quite spectacular, and without a doubt, that is the reason this film will be worth your time.
Callie Ott (looking like she could be a sister to Rooney and Kate Mara) brings a proper amount of sadness, concern and confusion to Isabell. Her many conversations with Dr. Scheidler are nicely edited and allow both actresses to truly shine. During one of the discussions of Malcolm and Isabell’s parents, the conversation turns to the frighteningly precognitive story their mother used to tell them as children. It’s a beautifully written and expertly acted highlight in the film. And when Ott eventually produces real tears in a another emotionally-charged story to Dr. Scheidler, you’ll realize that Ott and her scene partners are all in top acting form.
As Malcolm, Raymond Creamer (who co-wrote the film) brings an interesting mix of all-American college kid (looking like he could be Zach Braff’s brother) and very creepy, ready-to-explode-in-anger, loyal (and justifiably crazed) brother. I loved that, by the time the climax rolled around, we had plenty of sympathy for Malcolm. It was nice to understand his actions, no matter how wrong or terrifying they may be. On that note, the final moments of the film are extremely tense, and much of that credit goes to Creamer and his scene partner, Schell M. Peterson.
Speaking of Peterson, she is given great dialogue in her sessions with Isabell. But I was genuinely surprised by the realism she provided in the climax. She delivers to Dr. Scheidler – true fear, but also a wonderful sense of strength and common sense. The fantastic build-up to the climax is really a thing of beauty – both in the performances and in the very believable dialogue. In these moments, these characters make choices that are smart, sensible and true – so rare in a film like this. That makes me smile. And as I tend to do when something really works, I nodded my head in appreciation. Thank you filmmakers and actors, for these exchanges.
As for other aspects of the production, I was most impressed with the dialogue, notably some of the scenes between Dr. Scheidler and Isabell. There’s a certain authenticity (in case you haven’t noticed, authenticity is always a big sticking point in my reviews and always something I long for in any film I watch) that had me on board from the get-go. There are also the calmer moments toward the beginning of the film, as Malcolm and Isabell travel in a mini-van (with their partners) to the lake house. It’s this light banter between the foursome which will draw you in and assure you that you’re seeing something “real”.
There are no “boo” moments and no gore in The Horror. But there is certainly a dense tension throughout — no doubt you’ll give a nod of credit to the rumbling score from Brandon K. Verrett — expertly keeping the audience in a lovely state of unease.
But the experience wasn’t all hunky-dory. I feel as though The Horror could have gone further, or perhaps cemented itself more firmly in the world it wanted to be. It’s certainly meant to be an intimate production and definitely succeeds as a character study (watching Malcolm fall prey to his grief and crippling neuroses is heartbreaking) but it wasn’t quite enough to garner a higher score. With a very short run time of just under 80 minutes, there was room to expand. As it was however, there is (just on the cusp) a bit too much of Malcolm’s brooding.
On the note of “cementing itself”, the prologue held great supernatural promise (and it immediately appeared as though The Horror may be another “found footage” effort – thankfully it was not) and several other exchanges suggested it might go in that ghostly direction, but it never did. Perhaps the discussion of supernatural things was meant to be a misdirection, or maybe I missed some over-riding symbolism in these details. I don’t consider myself a slack-jawed moron when it comes to film-watching and so if there was something I missed, then I’ll err on the side of a filmmaker shortcoming, rather than my own perceived attention deficit. I think that if a subtle detail were properly executed, I would have caught it. And this wishy-washiness is what I was getting at in the start of the article. The film’s world and tone are unclear.
There is also the immediate introduction of two secondary characters, in the form of Annie (Lexi Moeller), Malcolm’s on again/off again girlfriend and Isabell’s boyfriend Chris (Chris Oliver) which offer an additional, very intriguing promise – including an interesting warning from Annie to Chris about the way the Rademacher twins function — but which frustratingly never receives any payoff.
Another positive worth mentioning is the continuity of Malcolm’s hygiene/hair length as the film progresses. So much can be ruined by lack of attention to details, but the filmmakers nailed not only his mental descent, but the equally important plunge in his appearance.
Finally, the choice of locations was wonderfully effective – very sparse, very Lake Michigan and during the many scenes in the winter months – appropriately deserted. The shots of the vast ice and snow-covered lake, with Malcolm in the center of the frame, lends an air of isolation and a grieving family frozen in time (and fear) – perfectly capturing the difficult situations in which the twins find themselves.
While not a completely satisfying film experience, The Horror has many powerful pieces which are worthy of both praise and your movie-going minutes. Strong performances and exceptional dialogue allow the film to rise above so many other current indie efforts, despite a fuzzy tone and an unclear world.
The Horror is scheduled for release on April 1st – via digital download, and on a limited edition VHS.