Dir: Anthony C. Ferrante
Star: James Zimbardi, Dee Wallace, Niesha Renee Guilbot, Angie Teodora Dick
I was a bit worried going into this, having read interviews in which the director described this using the “e”‐word: elevated. It’s a concern, because I’ve sat through my share of films with the label, where the makers have been so concerned with being elevated, they forget about the horror. The results turn into more of an angst-ridden drama, something of little interest to me. This, however, probably works even if you ignore all the motifs about addiction and loss. Admittedly, it may be more than a bit confusing, with explanations very much limited. However, the strong performances, particularly from Wallace, hold things together. [And can I say: somebody needs to bring together Wallace, Lin Shaye and Lynn Lowry, the three grand dames of modern horror]
It begins with the Coyle family suffering a tragedy on vacation, leading to the disappearance of the father and daughter. Decades later, the trauma still resonates. Mother Donna (Wallace) believes her child will be found. Son Lucas carries guilt, uses drugs to cope, and his own young daughter, Zoey (Guilbot), is suffering as a result. While his brother Jack (Zimbardi) seems well-enough adjusted, the cracks begin to show as the pressure increases, threatening his relationship with his girlfriend, Liz (Dick). All of which could well be that angsty drama. Except there’s a monster lurking – it may be a creature of folklore, or a manifestation of their psyches – as well as the truth about exactly what happened by the lake, all those years ago.
It is the case that the viewer needs to buy into the concept here. If you don’t, this could well seem trite or ridiculous. Personally, this wasn’t much of a problem: the opening sequence, giving us a depiction of the holiday incident, pulled me in from the start. There was a bumpy patch thereafter, as the jump to the present day is a disorienting one. We ended up having to pause the movie for a moment, to sort out who was who. However, once that was squared away, we settled in to watch the Coyle family slowly tearing itself apart, in a relentless combination of recriminations and substance abuse. In particular, Zoey’s mother is “Just Say No” made flesh.
Jack becomes an increasingly unreliable narrator, though there’s enough overlap between his experience and Zoey’s to suggest some objective elements, and that there is a creature in play. Quite what it is, does, or wants is unclear. There’s a brief conversation with a German woman that suggests it is of European origin, though you need to be fine with the specifics remaining vague. What does work well – surprisingly so for horror – are the emotional beats, such as an unexpected reunion between Jack and his father. It quietly snuck up on me, but by the end, I cared about him and his mother, even though the latter has been carrying a terrible burden for a generation. It’s an unexpected outcome, one which doesn’t happen often to a tired cynic like me.