A24 can do no wrong as of late. A spooky horror film is a little different but there’s no doubt that it will be up there with their other recent offerings.
Synopsis: Imagine the end of the world. Now imagine something worse. Secure within a desolate home with his vigilant, protective and heavily armed parents Paul and Sarah, 17-year-old Travis navigates fear, grief and paranoia amid scarce resources as a desperate young couple, with their own child, seeks refuge in his family home. Despite the best intentions of both families, panic and mistrust boil over as the horrors of the outside world creep ever closer. But they are nothing compared to the horrors within, where Travis discovers that his father’s commitment to protecting the family may cost him his soul. (Mongrel Media)
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, and Carmen Ejogo
Writer: Trey Edward Shults
Director: Trey Edward Shults
Running Time: 91mins
Sometimes what isn’t visible can be just as scary. The story focuses on the human element, featuring family living in relative isolation in the forest in hopes of hiding from a mysterious disease that has ravaged humanity. This seemed to have been the case for a long period of time as Paul (Edgerton), Sarah (Ejogo), and their son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) had been used to this new life of theirs. Paul was definitely prepared, maybe too much, with his paranoia becoming a detriment to the rest of his family, more on that later.
The biggest victim of this had to be Travis as we learn how this new world from his perspective. He was the primary vehicle of the storytelling, relying on his facial expressions to convey the mood, and many of the film’s scares came from his real-looking dreams. The story doesn’t really give much away as to what was really happening, leaving it open to interpretation. Of course the other side of this is that not getting this information may leave some confused.
While watching the film we weren’t sure whether they were right or wrong. The not knowing added a considerable sense of dread to the story that was maintained throughout. This was also thanks to the film’s excellent cinematography and sound design, creating an eerie environment through its use of light and darkness, keeping it there and building it over the course of the film, again slowly.
Paul and his family were desperately trying to survive and it was that dynamic that added to the human element which also worked towards the film’s sense of dread. Paul was so protective of his family that it made him willing to do what was necessary and also paranoid. This was challenged once they encountered a young family made up of a man named Will (Abbott), his wife Kim (Riley Keough), and their son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner).
Their apprehension towards each other was understandable but they nonetheless tried to make it work. The addition of this new family slightly altered the dynamic between both families , however, it could only last so long once their primal instincts returned to the surface. As mentioned, the character-driven nature of the plot and the shifting dynamics kept things engaging to watch and along with the film’s sense of dread keeps us on the edge of our collective seats, proving that whatever’s inside could be just as scary as whatever’s outside.
This film would definitely not have worked as well were it not for the performances and the writing. The characters were all real, vulnerable people which made it easy to connect to them on an emotional level and relate to their need to survive. This meant that neither family was good or bad, just doing what they had to do to survive. Edgerton was great as the patriarch of the main family, wanting to protect them at all costs. Ejogo was the supportive wife who also cared for her family. Harrison Jr. was compelling as the young Travis, growing up in the midst of this crisis.
Overall, this was an excellent, character-driven psychological horror elevated by its eerie atmosphere, keeping us on the edge of our seats, and elevated by the great writing and the performances and chemistry of the cast.
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