How long have you guys been reading my blog? No really, how long? Here’s a quick test: what did I claim were the top five horror movies of 2009? Well, if you said that this film was one of them, then you’d be right! However, in case you didn’t know the answer off the top of your head, you might have gone back and read the actual post, only to get confused by the fact that I also included Where the Wild Things Are on that list as well. I guess that if you read that list, you could deduce that this movie is as scary as Where the Wild Things Are was, which I suppose is a weird comparison. Would you believe that I made that distinction after having only seen this film once? Isn’t that crazy?! How often do I only see a movie just one time, especially if I really enjoy it? Despite having only seen it once, that didn’t stop me from buying it on Blu-ray, and it made a great choice for a chilly October evening with some people who had never even heard of it before, and it reminded me that this is easily one of the best horror movies of not only 2009, but at least of the past five years.
JUST LOOK AT THE FUCKING TITLECARD AND TELL ME THIS MOVIE ISN’T ALREADY AWESOME.
In the early 80’s, we see a college sophomore, Samantha (Jocelin Donahue), on the search for her very first apartment. She doesn’t have nearly enough money to afford the “perfect place”, but her terrible roommate is driving her crazy, making Samantha desperate to get out of there. She sees an opportunity to be a babysitter and gets her friend Megan (Greta Gerwig) to drive her to a giant house in the middle of the woods. Upon meeting the person who placed the ad, Mr. Ulman (Tom Noonan), he admits to being dishonest in the ad. Rather than a babysitting job, this is a job to stay in the house just in case his mother needs assistance. With Samantha being so desperate, and Mr. Ulman needing so badly to go out for the evening to celebrate the lunar eclipse, she agrees to the job for $400. Megan leaves Samantha, but doesn’t go far, pulling over to listen to music in a nearby cemetery. It’s there that Megan has an encounter with a seemingly harmless stranger, played by AJ Bowen, but that encounter changes the entire tone of the movie. We realize that Samantha is in for one of the worst nights of her life, and we, as viewers want nothing more than for her to safely get out of the house.
I understood the high-waisted jeans, the flannel shirts, and the feathered hair, but what was that weird cord that came out of the phone and why did it have that little dial on it that she had to keep spinning? It must have been some sort of generator to give the phone power for when the batteries on their portable phones died.
I’m going to leave that synopsis far more vague and ambiguous than I normally do, because I encourage every fan or horror movies, fuck it, any fan of MOVIES to go watch this film. I didn’t know much about writer/director Ti West before seeing this film, but I can tell you that I will see every movie that this guy is involved in from here on out. Granted, he was somewhat responsible for Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever, which was a piece of shit, but word is that he tried to get his name removed from it anyway. Contextually, it was a great choice for him to set this movie in the early 80’s, because as he has mentioned in interviews, it was one of the last time periods that wasn’t tainted by the realm of technology. If you were a babysitter at a house in the woods, then you were a babysitter at a house in the woods. If someone said they’d be somewhere at a specific time, you just had to hope they would show up, seeing as there were no personal communication devices. It was also a time in American history where people were actually afraid of Satanic cults kidnapping you off the street and sacrificing you to some mythical demon, which is hilariously terrifying in retrospect of how stupid people were. Not only did West strive to emulate the 80’s contextually, but also in the production of the film itself. For example, rather than shooting it digitally or on 35mm, it was shot on 16mm and blown up, as was the most cost-effective filming technique in the early 80’s. From the music to the outfits to the special effects and especially the opening credit sequence, this film pays homage to movies of the 80’s that really shaped a lot of contemporary filmmakers and how they view horror.
Look how creepy he is! Wait, did I say creepy? Look how nice he is! Wait, did I say nice? Look how creepy he is! Wait, did I say creepy? Look how nice he is! Wait…
Yeah okay, so Ti West had a clever script and stylish aesthetic sense, but what else did this film have? You might notice that I pointed out four actors by name, when I barely ever mention more than two. This film could have easily been mediocre if it wasn’t for the great casting and wonderful performances by everyone involved. First and foremost, this movie succeeds thanks to Jocelin Donahue. I’d say about 75% of the movie is comprised of shots of her wandering around alone, not even engaging with anyone. She plays a smart character who you really feel sympathetic towards, considering she’s not in this situation because she’s stupid, but because she’s there out of desperation. We can all relate to doing things we wish we didn’t have to, but understanding that the ends justify the means. If this movie were actually made in the 80’s, Samantha probably would have just been some buxom blonde that served as a sex object that read her lines, but we learn early on that Samantha is instead a vulnerable character who isn’t willing to let herself be a victim. She reacts to every situation she is put in with intuition and she always keeps her wits about her, no matter how intense the situation. I really hope to see Jocelin in more movies, horror or otherwise. Now let’s talk about Tom Noonan…..holy shit, talk about terrifying and kind at the same time. He was so incredibly unassuming and approached Samantha in such a genuine way, that even though we knew he was up to no good, the way he delivered his lines and even the way he carried himself portrayed a man who seemed to have nothing left in his life. And here I was just hating him for that one episode where he was taunting Fox Mulder after claiming to have been the one to kidnap Mulder’s sister. AJ Bowen is another actor that I am going to keep my eyes out for, especially after his role in this film, as well as in The Signal and in A Horrible Way to Die. Older generations already have their genre favorites like Lance Henriksen or Robert Englund, and I keep my fingers crossed that AJ Bowen gets to find his way into as many horror movies as possible to add his own special type of bearded intensity that movies need these days. Greta Gerwig looked really familiar, and I didn’t know why, but she really played well into the role she had of a friend you weren’t necessarily going to be bragging about having, but you knew you could rely on. Apparently she was in Greenberg after this movie, so good for her!
You can look in my window ANY day, AJ Bowen. I said ANY. DAY.
I think that from here on out, this film is going to be my litmus test for whether or not I take someone’s opinion seriously about horror movies. If I talk to anyone who ever uses the word “boring” in the context of this film, then I’ll tell them that they can fuck right off. Okay, fine, I get it, the first 35 minutes of this movie doesn’t really have anything going on…at all…seriously. It’s just Samantha going to this creepy house and hanging out. Might not necessarily be exciting, and it certainly is uneventful, but rather than the word “boring”, I think people need to use the word “deliberate”. West really makes you earn the fear and suspense that you enjoy after we first meet AJ Bowen’s character, and every moment after that, your entire body is tense as you will have no idea what to expect. Some people might argue that the pacing or speed at which the film moves doesn’t justify the brevity of the climax and the way things are tied up, but you know what? Life’s not fair. You’re not always going to get a fifteen minute chase sequence at the end of the movie where the hero defeats the villain. And if we’re being completely honest here, I could have even had the climax have been shorter, because the less you knew about what was going on, the better. You were left with a blood lust towards some of this film’s characters that was never really fulfilled, so when the credits rolled, you were distraught over this film not giving you the retribution you deserved.
I’m sure other bloggers would see this image and think of an inappropriate comment to make, but I am way too mature and have far too much tact than to allude in even the slightest way to the fact that there’s blood on her face due to performing oral sex on a female who is shedding the lining of her uterus. Sorry guys, look for another blog if you’re looking for that weird, pervert stuff!
Since I clearly have been going on and on about this movie, and it’s quite apparent that I really like it, I’ll try to wrap things up. This movie wasn’t very heavy on special effects and didn’t have the most original or unique plot or characters, but it’s really a combination of every factor involved that this film really should be regarded as a contemporary classic. I think I might have mentioned once or twice that two of my favorite movies are Suspiria and Rosemary’s Baby. Both of these movies are relatively slow, and the latter has barely any gore or violence, but all three of these films are deeply unsettling to me. In a mere 95 minutes, Ti West scared you with what’s really most terrifying in the world. It’s not ghosts, vampires, werewolves, monsters, or mask-wearing machete-wielding zombies. I don’t know much about West’s views on philosophy, but I think he and I would agree on one of Jean-Paul Sartre’s most famous lines: “L’enfer, c’est les autres”. Or, in other words, “hell is other people”.