UPDATE: Forgot to hit “Update” after adding the pictures and I’m currently working, so I’ll redo this later.
It’s a pretty old concept that someone experiencing madness might be indistinguishable from someone who is dealing with the supernatural. The Tell-Tale Heart, The Turn of the Screw, Young Goodman Brown, these are just the ones I can name off of the top of my head that are more than 100 years old. So, naturally, writers, and later filmmakers, have had a long time to play around with it. Some of them have been great horror films, like the original The Haunting, and some have been not-so-great, like Hellraiser: Inferno. This one is kind of in the middle.
Tom Walker (Topher Grace) is a recently released mental patient. Upon his release, he’s informed that his father (Robin Thomas) has recently committed suicide and given him everything in the will, including his family’s mansion. Tom has to live there for 30 days on house-arrest as one of the conditions of his release. His parole officer, Brody (Patricia Clarkson), is rooting for him to fail, based upon the horrible nature of the crime that got him committed in the first place.
Shortly after moving in, Tom begins to have minor hallucinations and starts to discover secrets within his father’s house. He tries to seek help from local delivery girl Lynn (Genesis Rodriguez), but fantasy and reality continue to blend. This is only amplified when Brody takes his medication away, leading Tom to be uncertain what aspects of what he sees are real or just in his head, including images of his dead father and his abusive brother (Callan Mulvey).
Like I said, there are a lot of movies and stories that involve an unreliable narrator whose mental state may be changing reality. In this film, the first thing we know about Tom is that he has hallucinations, so, naturally, we assume that what he’s seeing is a hallucination. In fact, one of the first times we see a ghostly image in the movie, we are told that what we are seeing is just a hallucination. The problem is, that makes it seem much more likely throughout the movie that we’re just seeing hallucinations when it comes to the supernatural elements. In fact, the only things that really evoked the question of “is this real” are his interactions with characters that were previously established as being alive and potentially there. It kind of robbed a lot of the film of the tension.
The parts where he appears to be discovering the house’s hidden passages and rooms, while they do contain elements that appear to be in his head, are pretty much portrayed as unambiguously real, meaning all of the secrets he finds are genuine. It also doesn’t help that our main character constantly believes that nothing happening to him is real, which means that we are less likely to believe it could be real. Again, it kind of robs the tension.
The big upside of the film is that Topher Grace’s performance is pretty solid. His character’s connection to the pool, which later has even more significance, is actually a good use of “show, don’t tell,” something of which I am a major proponent. The backstory to his imprisonment is pretty grim and the sequence expanding on it is done well. The connection between violence, madness, and each of the family members is a good theme that deserved exploration, even if it wasn’t explored enough. Patricia Clarkson is wasted within most of the film, with my response to her character ranging from “what” to “huh.”
However, ultimately, the movie can’t exactly decide what parts it wants us to think are real and what parts it doesn’t. It then starts to shove a bunch of resolutions in the audiences’ collective face which feel somewhat random and unearned. It’s not a bad film, but don’t put it at the top of your list.
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