A woman left alone with her new step-children finds her world turned upside-down.
After their mother (Alicia Silverstone) dies, Aidan and Mia Hall (Jaeden Martell and Lia McHugh) are sent to live with their father, Richard (Richard Armitage), and his fiancé, Grace (Riley Keough). Richard met Grace while researching a book on cults, because she was the only survivor of her father’s death cult’s mass suicide. Richard announces that the children will spend the holidays with Grace and him at the family’s isolated cabin. The kids refuse to bond with Grace, something that becomes even more stressful when Richard gets called back in to work. One morning, Grace awakens to find that someone, or something, has taken all of the belongings out of the house and destroyed the generators. Even more strange occurrences start to occur, leading Grace to question her reality, or what’s left of it, as she tries to survive with the children.
This movie is a great example of how you can make horror without needing to have a lot of jump-scares or a ton of disturbing images. While we get some flashbacks to some cult activity, the majority of the tension in the film is just Grace’s slow descent into paranoia. Honestly, Riley Keough makes this movie work. The two kids, played by Martell and McHugh, are both great, but the focus of the story is on Grace, who is dealing with both her past and her future. Since her father led a psychotic religious cult, she naturally has a fear of the Catholic iconography that decorates the cabin, and Keough manages to add a level of subtle intensity to her reactions that really sells her growing madness. If you enjoyed the Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala film Goodnight Mommy, you’ll like this.
Throughout much of the movie, the terror comes from the uncertainty of what is happening to Grace and the kids and how much of it is just within Grace’s mind. The fact that the audience doesn’t really know either, and that some of our own experiences may have felt just as ambiguous in the past, really starts to make the events hit home hard. The atmosphere of the cabin is as unsettling as it gets, constantly casting an otherworldly pallor over everything that the characters are experiencing. So many of the shots really drive home the isolation and the dread that Grace is dealing with that you can empathize with her desperation.
I will say that the biggest problem with the film is the actual plot. Since so much of the movie is ambiguous, it really does take a hit when it tries to explain what’s happening, mostly because the explanation doesn’t really make sense. The ending is powerful, though, and will leave you feeling a lot of emotions, but I’d hate to tell you which ones.
Overall, honestly, I really liked the film. If you like movies that are driven primarily by a single great performance, or atmospheric horror, check it out on Hulu.
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