Brace yourself for a trip down a rabbit hole where each character is equally mad as a hatter. This dystopian Noir has all the essential cinematic elements (e.g. literary references, an anonymous setting with faint whiffs of Americana), which masterfully serve the plot rather than the other way around, to the extent the multiple nods to various familiar stories feel as though every influence has led to—and culminates in—this dark comic come to life. Restraint and consistency keep it from drifting into the cartoonish realm of flat caricatures, fizzling story lines and sloppy plot holes. As the king said to Alice in Wonderland, “Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
Suffice it to say if Hitchcock were still alive he would’ve made this movie.
Like its title, this film isn’t something you’d likely choose but depending on who’s offering, might accept. Even if you aren’t prompted to buy it for yourself it was nevertheless enjoyable for the duration of its existence. In my case, it was chosen for me by a movie buff, of whose watch night I was a guest. They knew I never would’ve picked this out for myself. While I wouldn’t classify it as a story I’m interested in revisiting I don’t feel my time was wasted.
Unfortunately, what makes this film unique and interesting is unmarketable to general audiences, supervised or not: both the premise and subsequent plot explore a subject that’s taboo but shouldn’t be. That’s not to say everyone should see it; the exploitation of children is a delicate subject. This particular story happens to focus on cleverly devised revenge by way of poetic justice, which may be the only way to stir viewers to talk about it rather than unintentionally inciting their curiosity or accidentally making light of such a heinous offense. The result is riveting and effective.
Counter to its title, each main character is anything but courteous. High schooler, Ethan enlists the help of his techie classmate, Sean to prank their reclusive, cranky old neighbor by staging a haunting that will be secretly filmed for a school project. Initially, Sean agrees to Ethan’s plan to watch their neighbor’s reactions to occurrences (e.g. slamming screen door), which they control remotely. To both the pranksters’ disappointment, the response is minimal. As the incidences intensify, it becomes clear that Ethan has a deep emotional investment in psychologically torturing the old man. A falling out between the two prompts Sean to demand his equipment back but he’s essentially blackmailed into continuing with the experiment since it was all purchased on his credit card. When Ethan breaks in to adjust a camera toppled by the old man’s cat, he experiences his own unexplainable occurrence.
As a preemptive strike against seeing another round of forehead vein-throbbing performances from a circle of actors with a knack for intensity, I deliberately ignored this movie at the theater. Much to my chagrin, when I watched it out of desperation for something new and available, I found myself moved by the struggle of grief and the realization that it hits everyone differently, often creating tragic separation from the very people, who should be drawn closer by it. The formidable ensemble is in capable hands, which keeps them under the reign of the story at hand. Somber, thoughtful and engaging till the end.