After a lighthearted romp in a comedy horror cardboard labyrinth, I figured it was time to go with something far more traditional when it comes to spooky season. As I’ve perused the the Prime catalog a few times as of late I wanted to see what Hulu had to offer as they are typically very front facing with their endorsement of Halloween. Right on the homepage this 2023 entry was staring me in the face. I came to find this was initially intended to be a straight to streaming release but after test audiences enjoyed it as much as they did, there was a pivot to a limited theatrical release earlier in the year. I have to say, this movie would definitely benefit from a movie going experience in a theater filled with people ready to jump and scream. That being said, let’s get into it.
This movie focuses in on an entity that seems to like to hide in shadowy closets and under beds. Preying off fear ala your typical monster in the dark, this movie does a lot of things right with it’s villain. We start off with a grieving family of three. Dad, teenage daughter and little girl. They’re trying to find their way back to the real world after losing their wife/mother in a car accident. Each stricken with grief in their own ways, on top of things the youngest is wrestling with a creature in her closet. It’s that typical age where you’ve gotta do a nightly check in the closet and under the bed before you can say goodnight. The only problem is, in this case, there very much is a bloodthirsty beast waiting for an unsuspecting parent to dismiss the fears and close the door. What I will say that I liked from the get go that they did with this thing going bump in the night was that we were allowed to “see” it early on. Now not entirely. They don’t give it away. And I really appreciate that fact. But it’s there. We see it moving. Lurking in the shadows. It slinks through the background of a scene. Sometimes you’re even treated to the glimmer shining briefly back off of it’s beady little eyes. And what this does is create a constant sort of presence to the creature that helps perpetuate an unsettling tone throughout the movie.
The other thing I like that they do early on in the film is give full recognition to the veracity of the “boogeyman”. Chris Messina plays the widower father in the film who is a therapist who treats patients out of an office in his home. Shortly after the film begins and we’ve had an encounter or two with our mystery guest we see Lester Billings played by David Dastmalchian. In a brief but very convincing role he plays a father who has bore witness to the creature himself. All three of his children fell victim to it. He even delivers the eerie line in the trailer when asked what it is that he’s referring to as “the thing that comes for your kids when you’re not paying attention…” While he’s not on screen long, the depth and intensity that he adds early on to the film is palpable. It’s probably one of the best supporting character portrayals I’ve seen in a while. It’s a character only there to establish that this being is already underestimated in the fact that everyone is dismissing it’s presence. But in reality, that’s what we’d all do, right?
I also really appreciate how this film handle the general idea of grief. It’s not a new concept in horror. I think in recent years I would say the Babadook is one of the better, albeit annoying at times, examples of the horrific nature that exists in the manifestation of grief. It’s an emotion that most all of us can relate to on a grand scale of sorts in some form or fashion. And in stories like this, it presents in all kinds of ways depending on the bearer of the grief. In this film, the younger daughter, Sawyer, is fairly isolated but it’s mostly at home. No one believes her there so when she’s most in need of a companion, no one believes her. Whereas the teenage Sadie is most in need of friends in her waking life. The film is somewhat ambiguous as to the nature of her collective of friends. It appears that Bethany is a staying friend but there’s a new group she hangs out with that doesn’t give off the vibe that they were all that friendly a gang before her mother died. Several of the other girls seem subtly vicious in their snipes, especially given the fragile nature Sadie finds herself in at the moment. But to top it all off, Dad is bottling everything up inside as well and even distances himself emotionally from both his daughters. It’s clearly intentional through at least one or two scenes where there’s an opportunity for growth and connection that is stunted awkwardly but purposefully. All the meanwhile, the beast inside the house grows.
We do get a sort of attempt at a backstory on the creature when Sadie tracks down Lester Billing’s residence and finds his wife barricaded in with her own brand of crazy in tow. I wrestle with the explanation not just in this movie but many times in movies like this. Sometimes I appreciate the build up. Sinister has a particularly compelling biography for the malevolent force behind the terror in that film. But sometimes it’s better to just acknowledge that something is plaguing our protagonists and we are just going to have to guess our best as we try and fight back. Some of it feels like it’s intuitive. Much like a Freddy Kruger or Old Man Marley in Home Alone, the key to humanizing them is to no longer fear them. When you challenge their ability to scare you, it decreases their ability to hurt you. That seems to play somewhat of a role in this iteration. But I will say that because the concoction of a resume for our creepy new friend is patchy at best with ideas like “it’s been around forever” and other such colloquialisms you might find attached to a haunting of some sort. I think because we spin our wheels trying to figure this out but in doing so haphazardly it does feel rather unsatisfying. It’s kind of like do it or don’t but if you’re going to try and come up with a reason as to why it’s here or what it’s doing then commit to something. I know this is adapted from a Steven King story and sometimes his origins for things can be a big whackadoodle, to use the industry specific terminology. Because of this I think I would have preferred we just not even look into where it came from or why it’s here and zeroed more in on ultimately that this family healing together is the best way to move on from the hold our monster has on them.
Overall the movie does come together well in my opinion. Some things are a little rushed and fall flat but they are limited and don’t hurt the overall movie that much. There are elements of the movie that are also a little played out but to be perfectly honest, this movie doesn’t make many mistakes. It’s far from a perfect film but it’s great fodder for a Halloween movie night. It’s new, the jump scares are minimal and fairly meaningful. I give good marks for the creepy factor which I attribute mainly to how they execute the movement of the monster throughout the movie. This is one of the better, more vicious lurkers I’ve seen in a while and for a PG-13 flick it does it right. Slick outlines moving in the background. Eyes hiding in the corner. Being outside the movie while being uncomfortable within the space inside the movie is a great trick and in my estimation they do it well in this movie. I’d feel confident at a 6.75 out of 10 on this one. A couple tighter movements on some plot points probably would have put it at a 7 or higher but it still a good watch in my estimation. Well worth the 98 minute run time. The cast does a great job and even our youngest, Sawyer, is a really solid child actor. I endorse this movie for your own spooktacular rotation this October and hope you enjoy it as much as I did. So until next time, I’ll catch you on the flip side.