December 10, 2020 – This haunted house flick from down under is a bit different than many of the films in this horror sub-genre. While it does have the usual amount of lurking shadows, bumping in the night and crawling about inside dark places, there are some differences, too.
For one thing, this is better made than most horror films, with fine acting, and a strong emotional subtext involving guilt over past choices, and the difficult emotional choices involved in deciding whether or not to place a doddering parent into a nursing home.
The movie takes a very unusual path to the topic of problems caring for a parent who may be suffering from dementia. There is also at least a visual reference to racial bias in the movie as well.
Emily Mortimer (“Mary Poppins Returns”) stars as Kay, who goes to see about her mother, Edna (played by Robyn Nevin of “Gods of Egypt”) after getting a call from Constable Mike Adler (Steve Rodgers of “Goldstone”) that her mother may be missing. Driving up from Melbourne with her daughter, Sam (Bella Heathcote of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”) the two arrive to find Edna's house empty, locked from the inside, with strange black stains on the walls.
Kay and Sam join a search party tromping through the woods, trying to find the elderly woman. Exhausted, Kay and Sam sleep overnight at Edna's house. The next morning, they awake to find Edna making tea for them, barefoot and muddy. She won't say where she has been.
A nurse arrives to check Edna's health, and she seems healthy enough physically and mentally, but Kay and Sam begin to notice odd things, like an expanding black bruise-like patch of skin on Edna's chest. There are strange noises at night. Edna wonders here and there, doing strange things, like eating photographs and talking about something invading the house.
Suspense mounts as Edna's behavior becomes more alarming and more dangerous. Kay is pursued by a knife-wielding Edna while Sam is trapped in a nightmare-like maze inside the house somehow.
The story becomes less realistic, more supernatural and more like a nightmare as it goes along. The ending is both unexpected and quite unusual. The ending seems to be a meditation on Kay's guilt about not taking better care of her mother. The ending could also be about the extent to which a person with dementia is no longer the same person they were before their condition changed.
Edna's transformation from a fairly normal person to something quite drastically different is shocking and disturbing. There are a number of possible interpretations of this transformation, from racial to emotional to moral. I am not a big fan of horror films, but this one is not bad. It is a bit too slow-moving for my taste, but there is plenty of suspense and emotion to give it some zing, nonetheless. This film rates a C+.
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