Directed by Kevin Greutert, produced by Blumhouse. Evie (Isla Fisher) is a pregnant lady recovering from the trauma of inadvertently causing the death of an infant in a car crash the previous year. She and her husband David (Anson Mount) have just bought a sizable and lovely vineyard, but before they can begin to enjoy themselves, trouble is a’brewin’. Evie has terrifying visions, including a sinister hooded figure, a gun, and blood spattering the wall. She’s convinced the house is haunted, but David refuses to hear her out, putting them both in terrible danger.
Shortly after I began early drafts of this review, I found out that I myself am pregnant (third time for me), so naturally I enjoy the plot point that Evie is more susceptible to psychic energies because she’s expecting. It adds an interesting new wrinkle to a prolific genre. I concur with the filmmakers that gestating a baby really is a superpower, even aside from the miraculous capability of growing an entire person from scratch. In normal circumstances I’m a clumsy oaf, but when I’m carrying a child, I gain the ability to fall not only far less often but also in slow motion. (After the baby is born my reflexes get exponentially faster, not unlike in the lunch tray scene from Sam Raimi’s Spiderman.)
My main gripe is how fast and loose anything medical is portrayed. Evie is bombarded with antidepressants, even when they’re inappropriate for her situation. She’s prescribed them after her car accident because she’s sad she killed a baby. As anyone with depression will tell you, there’s a big difference between being grief-stricken for obvious reasons and being clinically depressed. In the present the pills are foisted on her again because David thinks she’s having hallucinations. As IMDB points out, she’d be better off with an anti-psychotic for that. Dr. Mathison (Jim Parsons), the man Evie sees regarding the health of her fetus, is a whimsical combination of gynecologist, sonographer (to be fair it’s not unheard of for an ob\gyn to do sonograms, but it is something that requires additional schooling), and psychiatrist. Evie and David even turn to him when she falls through a plate glass window instead of going to the emergency room.
Expanding on the depictions of control, the movie puzzles me; it has a strong Rosemary’s Baby vibe, what with everybody (especially men) telling Evie she’s crazy and trying to regulate what she does with her own body. It could have been a story about a strong woman refusing to ignore her powerful instincts. Instead it’s a story about a hysterical woman who lets everyone push her around. David isn’t a villain; he’s as sweet and supportive as he is domineering. He’s frequently condescending; it’s impossible to watch him and not be reminded of John in “The Yellow Wallpaper” (“She shall be as sick as she pleases”), but just as frequently he’s a kind and decent husband. Every time Evie is scared, which is constantly–Evie spends the majority of her time on screen whining, crying, or screaming–she collapses into his arms, and he lovingly soothes her. As if it weren’t enough that Evie is a total wimp, there are multiple noxious female stereotypes. Evie and her new friend Sadie (Gillian Jacobs) bond by griping about motherhood with every cliche in the book. Then there’s a prenatal yoga class full of woo-woo weirdos who try to force happy thoughts into Evie with their breath, a segment that’s played for laughs (despite the still below that makes it look like they’re a cult about to sacrifice her).
I had a difficult time telling what the movie is about in terms of the underlying concept. There doesn’t seem to be a moral or a resounding message. There is a touch of the oddly common anti-materialism present in horror movies involving suspiciously luxurious-yet-affordable houses: one half of a married couple panics at the paranormal phenomena, and the other one cries, “But we’ve sunk everything we have into this!” Finally they reconcile the fact that they can’t live in a cheap murder house when they’re dead, and they tend to flee with little more than the clothes on their backs.
Now don’t get me wrong–I’m not saying nothing happens. There’s a LOT going on. The movie is so full of red herrings to detract from the final twist that ancillary characters are coming out of the woodwork throughout. My least favorite of these are the horrifyingly stereotypical superstitious Latinx folks who work on the vineyard. They bombard David with “fertility cult shit” and warn Evie of “El Maligno. The evil one. It get much stronger since you come.” Eva Longoria is completely wasted as Evie’s best friend, and John de Lancie is similarly under-used as a vintner who pops up mainly to provide expositional information. And don’t get me started on Joanna Cassidy as Helena, a psychic/wine tastemaker who’s angry and rude to Evie until she abruptly does a 180 personality-wise, hugging her and cooing, “Come here. I’ll help you.” After that, she’s even more insufferable than when she was surly, spouting painful dialogue like: “Certain acts of psychic violence, the truly evil ones, echo throughout time, like ripples spreading across a pond.”
Overall, it’s fairly entertaining, but it’s decidedly un-scary. It’s rated R yet has a firmly PG-13 feel until the climax. I recommend watching with subtitles because there’s an inordinate amount of murmuring, even from the characters who are alive. Check it out if you’re in the mood for something light and simple.
*Cheesy jokes courtesy of https://laffgaff.com/haunted-house-jokes-puns/. Totes wish I could take credit for them.