Ben (John-Paul Howard) is a teen delinquent hanging out with his dad Liam (Jamison Jones) while his parents decide whether they are divorcing. His boring summer working at the marina and being hassled by rich assholes is interrupted when his neighbor is possessed by an ancient witch who eats kids.
The movie was written by a pair of brothers who wanted to put a new spin on the witch subgenre. Alas, the spin is still pretty sexist. In fairness, it’s legit hard to make a pro-woman horror movie about witches because the horror associated with them is based on how they subvert traditional feminine roles. For example, in this movie, the witch has the ability to whisper in peoples’ ears and make them do her bidding, a power she reserves only for men. Instead of protecting and nurturing kids, she devours them. Rather than being young and traditionally attractive, her flesh is wrinkled and rotting. And you just know she smells bad.
However, there are some interesting gender reversals. Abbie, the neighbor (Zarah Mahler), hits a deer with her car, takes it home, and guts it while oldest kid Dillon (Blane Crockarell) holds her beer; meanwhile, her husband Ty (Kevin Bigley) strolls in with their baby, horrified. Ty is also seen tenderly putting Dillon to bed and checking on the baby while Abbie relaxes. (See, these dudes understand that real horror is your children not sleeping.) Ben, who can’t interact with adults without enraging them, is great with kids. Then there’s the scene when his love interest Mal (Piper Curda) tucks a flower behind his ear.
Moving on, while in some ways the film is pretty by-the-numbers, it also cheekily plays with audience expectations. We have the standard tropes like the naughty teen drinking party and Ben wandering slowly with a flashlight while investigating a noise. The last twenty minutes or so are particularly formulaic. However, the cold opening that establishes the characteristics of the monster with throwaway characters, despite being a frequently used technique, is still eerie and solidly written. Meanwhile, the movie can be playfully unpredictable. When you expect jump scares, there aren’t any. When you expect Ben and Mal to kiss, he throws up on her instead. The choice to frame the movie from Ben’s point of view instead of Abbie’s or Ty’s opens up more possibilities for gruesomeness and boundary-pushing. It has some wonderfully scary moments, like the scene when Dillon comes upon a freshly possessed Abbie, whose skin is literally crawling with who knows what. She turns around and gives him an uncanny stare.
I don’t have too many gripes otherwise. I found it a little confusing at times. (Fortunately, Wikipedia has one of those exhaustive plot summaries that explains every detail.) Frequently Ben is just the worst, completely unlikable, like when he dismisses his father’s girlfriend as “some bitch you’re sleeping with”. You can’t help but cheer when possessed Abbie, noting his cast, says, “You’re a very stupid boy. I’ll snap that other arm.” My favorite is tough and sassy Mal, who really should have been the main character, not only because she’s much more interesting, but also because she would have been a better counterpoint to the whole powerful-women-are-evil vibe.
On the whole, I had a good time. It’s fun but creepy. Give it a look if you’re in the mood for the kind of movie where you see kids die, but not the dog.