dir: Sean King O’Grady
Can you imagine anything as terrifying as not being able to get away from your own family? Imagine being trapped inside with them, unable to get out, unable to go anywhere…
Well, what I mean is, imagine it happening to someone else, but not because of a dumb virus. And they’re Americans, so it’s okay if bad stuff happens to them. As the film opens, we watch a family voluntarily getting into a bathroom together. It’s a pretty big bathroom, at least. There’s a tornado coming, and they’re being casual about it, so I’m going to guess they’re in one of those states where tornadoes happen frequently and people are used to it, but never think to maybe move somewhere else where they don’t happen.
They will be there for a long time. If this screenplay suffers from any problems, it’s that it has a The Shining problem. I know it’s considered a Kubrick / horror classic, but most people rarely mention the fact that Jack Nicholson’s character is a prick and a nut right from the start. He really doesn’t have anywhere to go, other than from fairly nuts to totally nuts. There’s no arc, no development.
The dad (Pat Healy) here, too, is an abusive arsehole before things start going wrong, but at least the other family members can make eye contact with him at the start. Not so much later on.
There’s also a mom (Vinessa Shaw), a son (John James Cronin) and teenage daughter Melissa, or Mel (Sierra McCormick). They’re an average, very average, middle class family. They are fighting and sniping even before the storm happens.
What happens is, the house is damaged and it looks like a tree has trapped them in the bathroom. Forever, unless someone comes to help them out. Phones don’t work, or are conveniently lost.
“We need to do something” is said again and again, mostly by Mel. Thing is, though, the room is a perfect trap, and everything they try, down to brute force, doesn’t work.
The mum of course reassures the kids that everything will be all right, that help will come, that they won’t be harmed, they’ll be fine. The dad rants and raves, humiliated by his powerlessness, alternating between screaming obscenities at his wife, his kids or at the universe at random.
Contrasting parenting styles. Everything we see that happens to them, or doesn’t happen to them, occurs in this one room. It’s almost like they’re in a lockdown that never ends…
Which is what lockdowns feel like. There are, however, some flashbacks, to stuff that happened prior to the storm, involving Melissa and her girlfriend Amy (Lisette Alexis), who’s even more of a goth than Amy is.
I’m not a mental health professional (more of an amateur, really), but these flashbacks mostly indicate that Amy has severe psychotic tendencies and that she’s going to drag Mel down with her into the depths of delusion because that’s what you do when you love someone.
Either that, or Amy’s right about being possessed by demonic forces, which she will now unleash upon the world…
This is most definitely a horror flick, but for me it’s interesting how many different directions the flick could have gone. If the family gets trapped, and the situation itself causes deep-seeded issues to surface, painful truths to be revealed, traumas relived and then resolved, it would be a drama. If the bad situation keeps getting worse because of actions the family members take, then I guess it could be a comedy.
If the members of the family either directly or indirectly start trying to kill each other, then it’s either a horror movie, or some of my family Christmases back in the late 1980s, or both.
Whenever the story is confined to the bathroom, which is 90 per cent of the time, it’s exhausting, claustrophobic and mania-inducing, at least for me. Whenever the flashbacks take hold, it’s somewhat perplexing but also somehow even more maddening, as it tries to explain why Mel was squirrelly before the storm even appears, as well as implying there’s a supernatural explanation for what’s going on. Which only makes what happens more baffling.
There’s perhaps a slightly jokey aspect to that part of Mel’s stressing, in that of course a self-involved teenager could think that casting a spell they found on the internet could destroy the world, because honestly that happens like every day around here, but something very terrible maybe happened off screen, which is why these people are trapped as unseen horrors lurk outside.
There’s also maybe her latent homophobia, in that though she ‘loves’ her girlfriend, but isn’t out to her family, and maybe is so ashamed of them potentially finding out (which is also the reason surrounding the bad thing she and Amy might have done to another student who may have outed them at school) means she’d rather destroy the world than have people know that she’s gay?
Kids these days.
It doesn’t really explain why the father is such a jerk, though, unless the implication is that like most fathers, the burdens of responsibility etc lead to resentment and outright hostility. The mother at some point admits she’s always been afraid of his anger, and the situation isn’t one in which he can shine. He can’t defend his family, he can’t protect them, he can’t free them, he can’t do anything, so it’s almost like he wants to infuriate himself out of existence.
And there’s no booze around, which makes things even harder.
This isn’t a particularly clever or insightful horror flick, but it is somewhat effective, and it’s somehow satisfying in a grueling way. It doesn’t stint on awful, fatal things happening to innocent people, though, as a warning. The acting is mostly whatever is needed, they all do well, but Sierra McCormick is a clear standout and a clear star in the making. Her role here and her phenomenal work in a micro-budget sci fi flick I saw last year called The Vast of Night convince me that she should get all the roles in everything, all of the time.
Anyone who’s spent the last two years in virus related lockdowns can relate to feeling so trapped, and wondering if your family members are getting so sick of you always being around that they might try to kill you just to get a break.
Still, bit harsh. Maybe separate holidays next year, instead of murder or summoning a legion of demons to destroy the world, what do you say?
6 times I worry that next year will make last year look like a paradise in comparison out of 10
“It doesn’t make any sense. Why wouldn’t the neighbours come?” – if they’re anything like my neighbours, I’d be like “no thanks we’re fine, leave us to die” - We Need to Do Something