Greetings again from the darkness. Ever since The Blair Witch Project and the influence of “found footage”, which then transitioned into the endless sequels for Paranormal Activity, true creativity and ingenuity has been mostly lacking from the horror genre. One of those still devoted to creeping us out and generating seat jumping is Guillermo del Toro, who produced this film after seeing writer/director Andres Muschietti’s three minute short film (see below).
Since the real joy in experiencing a horror film comes from the surprises and twists, very few details will be revealed here. Worth noting is the lead role of Annabel played by the incredibly talented Jessica Chastain. Yes, the same one who is currently nominated for her role in Zero Dark Thirty. This time out, Ms. Chastain is a tatted up bass player in a (lousy) punkish band and sporting a Joan Jett hairdo. Annabel is living a bohemian lifestyle (translation: nearly starving with no responsibilities) with her artist boyfriend Lucas, played by Nikolaj Coaster-Waldau, whom many will recognize from “Game of Thrones”, and who appeared in the superb Headhunters (one of my favorites of 2012).
Many horror film clichés are presented here including a cabin in the woods, a portal to the afterlife, buzzing bugs, unexplained lullaby singing through the air vents, an untimely “fall” down the stairs by a main character and ties to a long ago tragedy that holds the key to this current mess. Notable is the welcome absence of gross-out and gore-out special effects. Despite the clichés, Muschietti and his co-writing sister Barbara, and Neil Cross provide us with some new touches (uncovering maternal instincts) and such a great looking movie that our attention is firmly held … especially for the first 80%. As happens so frequently, the final act is a bit disappointing, but not enough to ruin the experience.
Chastain is top notch here, though Coaster-Waldau is underutilized. The two young girls are effectively portrayed by Megan Charpentier (Victoria) and Isabelle Nelisse (Lily). In fact, Lily scampering about on all fours may be as frightening as the spooky Mama, played by 7 foot actor Javier Botet. It’s an unconventional horror film with an atypical ending … and one of the few movies to ever raise the question of whether one can survive for 5 years on a diet of cherries. This one is certainly worth a look if you are a fan of the genre.
take a look at the 3 minute short film that inspired the movie – plus the intro from Guillermo del Toro:
Watch the feature trailer: