No one, I suppose, is going to claim this film as a masterpiece, but it has a certain panache in the way it brings to life the moribund genre traits of a lapsed style of filmmaking that seemed to go the way of VHS back in the 1980s. Of course, as seems to have happened with every era, there’s been a retro revival of sorts, and in its style and leading man it’s not a million miles from the neon-soaked Ryan Gosling-fixated fantasias of Only God Forgives director Nicolas Winding Refn. Leading man here, Dan Stevens (who I’m informed has been in Downton Abbey), has just the right kind of bland attractiveness to conjure Gosling to mind (or maybe Chris Evans would be equally accurate), while the filmmaking has almost a purity to it. This is evident from the film’s very start, the size and font of the title card surely curated from some lost VHS tape. Faces are framed in close-up, and performances have that edge of hamminess — from the darting nervous eyes of its put-upon teenage son (Brendan Meyer, a terrific performance), to the determinedly fixed sociopathic stare off-screen that Stevens’s face assumes when no one’s watching. Yet the whole enterprise is just so resolutely unironic, from its perilously synth-heavy goth soundtrack to the Hallowe’en horror maze denouement in a hall of mirrors, that were it not for the occasional familiar face (like Lance Reddick’s shadowy governmental operative), you might easily assume this was in fact some undiscovered video nasty from 1986. It all reaches a crescendo of gore and bloody murder that concludes with an final fright so laughably predictable that I was prompted to reassess the entire film as perhaps having been a massive in-joke after all. Still, it does what it sets out to do, certainly.
Director Adam Wingard; Writer Simon Barrett; Cinematographer Robby Baumgartner; Starring Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Brendan Meyer, Lance Reddick; Length 99 minutes.
Seen at Vue Ocean Terminal, Leith, Saturday 20 September 2014.