Sunday, July 9, 2017


An wizened old man in close up, his eyes are in shadow but seem off. He stares intently at us. We notice the strange chancre on his shoulder. Reverse shot of a woman in an oxygen mask. She tearfully apologises to the man and says goodbye. He is her father. They are standing in a room coated with plastic sheeting. Two other men in safety masks lower the older man on to a wheelbarrow, roll him to a place in the forest outside, shoot him in the head through a pillow, douse him in petrol and cremate him in his grave. This is all you will get of the back story of this film. It is all you will need.

The family have no appetite at dinner that night. They go to bed early but are woken by an intruder at the house's sole point of access, a red door with a massive latch. Paul tells his wife Sarah to stay behind the corner as his son Travis hovers behind, both armed as they wait silently for the next move of the presence on the other side. The door bursts and a man crashes in. He is quickly subdued by Paul, disarmed and bound. The next day Paul talks to the man Will who is tied to a tree and explains that he thought the house was abandoned. He was looking for food and water for his family. Their dialogue broadens the situation and a truce is struck but the situation has changed beyond the control Paul's family had established. It was inevitable and there will be more changes. They too will feel inevitable.

This strange intense film plays things as straight as it can. To some it might feel too plain. The linear rolling of of its three acts can feel very lean but there is much at work with the themes it establishes and examines. There is a kind of Maslow pyramid being constructed, starting with survival and progressing through family, home, community, trust and breach of trust and something approaching warfare, a concentrated drop of human history in a cabin in the woods.

This film is being sold as the wrong kind of horror movie. The trailer makes it look gothic and thick with sudden scares but that completely misrepresents what is one of the most effectively chilling situational horror tales I've seen in years. Between the outbreaks of violence there is life, day to day, shrouded by the woods but always open to sudden attack and the unease of the compromise of concealment where they might not see you but you can't see them. The people here describe each other as good and we are relieved to hear it but know that anyone can only be as good as the situation allows. When that tears the good just becomes survival again.

A solid cast brings this home in tightly framed scenes where danger lies around corners of walls or phrases in a constantly delicate balance. A largely electronic score works coldly under the images, intensifying action or thickening the darkness. The warmth of the firelight colour pallet and the lushness of the surrounds tell us what nature knows or cares of the lives inside the walls.

A framed print of Breughel's Triumph of Death hanging on Travis' wall and examined in an early scene is recalled throughout the remainder increasingly a map of the world around the house. And it is a haunted house. This haunting is not one of a passed spirit, though, but of a decision to cut all ties with the former life, civilisation, and to accept a new reality. We see the possibility and all that threaten it. It could be a shaded evasion or a stolen glance across a table but as the mood in the house grows warmer the sense of the resulting vulnerability swells like the draught blown in though an opened door.