Watching horror movies is an eclectic process, more varied than it may seem at face value. Most people would say that to properly watch a horror movie, you have to be alone, in the quiet and the dark. But I challenge that. CHALLENGE!!!
Some movies, like the previously reviewed Jeepers Creepers, aren't the most serious of movies, and they benefit from being viewed with a group of friends that also don’t take themselves too seriously. The following movie doesn’t fall into that category. The first time I watched it happened to be with a group, but my second viewing was solitary, and that certainly elicited a different reaction.
Director: Scott Derrickson
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, James Ransone
The movie starts with old, grainy video footage of a family with their heads in sacks being hung on a tree branch. The scene sets up an eerie atmosphere that will ...ahem... hang around (I couldn't help myself) throughout the movie. The film begins in earnest with Ethan Hawke, playing a true-crime author looking for his next best seller, moving into a new home with his family. Because this is a horror film, the kids each need to have their own ‘thing.’ The girl is an artist that paints on the walls of her room (this is encouraged by her parents) and the son suffers from night terrors. Take a wild guess which of the two kids plays more heavily in the story that unfolds?
Upon arriving at the house, Ethan’s Ellison Oswalt is greeted by the local sheriff who is aware of Ellison and his profession. He expresses a dislike for the author, particularly because of his depiction of officers in his books. We learn that the house the family moved to was actually the house from the video that opened the movie. Ellison was using this as the basis for his next book, and was hoping to figure out what happened to the third child from the family, a daughter that went missing the night the rest of the family died. Unfortunately, he didn’t decide to make his wife aware of this information before they moved in.
Ellison discovers a box of 8mm film in the attic, and despite each being named as a ‘home movie’ they actually contain grisly murders similar to the one from the opening. Each one depicts a family being murdered by the camera operator, before cutting off.
Consulting with a deputy, they find out that the various films match up with different cases where entire families were murdered except for a single child that has gone missing, and that this has been going on for as long as they could find records for.
After viewing the films again, Ellison finds a recurring symbol, and even a hooded figure, in some of the home movies, and is directed to bring this information to a professor that specializes in the occult. Together, they learn that the symbols refer to the Pagan deity Bughuul. Bughuul would kill an entire family save for one child, and use that child to feed his soul.
At night, Ellison hears the projector playing in the attic, investigating he finds a group of blank faced children watching a film. These are all of the missing children from the murdered families. Suddenly Bughuul appears on the screen, the fright of which causes Ellison to fall down the attic ladder. He goes back up, and the children are missing. Grabbing the projector and film, Ellison burns everything, telling his wife that they are moving back to their old house right away.
Unbeknownst to him, this has doomed his entire family. In his old house, the deputy tells him that every family that was murdered, previously lived in the house of the last family that was murdered, and by moving back home, he’s closed the loop, allowing Bughuul to come for his family. Additionally, Ellison comes upon the same projector that he had burned with the same films, but now labeled with ‘extended cuts’.
Because this is a horror film, Ellison watches these movies, and the additional footage shows that the person(s) holding the camera/committing the murders were in fact the missing children, and then suddenly, the child would disappear from view. After watching thi,s he becomes lightheaded and faints after seeing that his coffee has been drugged and a note saying “Good night, daddy.”
When he awakens, he, his wife, and his son, are all bound and gagged on the floor. His daughter (bet you didn’t see that one coming!) is recording them, and cuts off Ellison’s head with an axe.
Bughuul shows up suddenly for one last jump scare.
On to the rating…
This was a decent movie with some strong elements, and some that didn’t work so well. Let’s do negatives first, since I typically don’t!
Firstly, in a stark contrast to Jeepers Creepers, there was a shit ton of exposition in this movie. Granted, the mythology created for Bughuul required a lot of knowledge being given to the audience, but it was so much, and so often, it took the scenes that were supposed to give us a reprieve from the tenseness, and instead slowed the pace to a crawl.
Secondly, I hate kids being the element of horror in a movie, but thankfully, it worked in this one since Bughuul was really the terror factor, just working through the kids.
My biggest complaint about the movie however, were the leaps in logic happening too often. If we’re to believe Bughuul gets his strength from eating the soul of the surviving child, why wouldn’t he feed on the souls of all the children, and have them kill the families together? It makes more sense than a 7-year-old girl holding a camera with one hand, and chopping off a head with the other.
As for the good of the movie, I liked Bughuul’s look, and his story, even if it was a bit contrived and took too much explaining. Ethan Hawke is a good actor, even if he’ll never top any of my lists. The rest of the cast was serviceable, and Vincent D’Onfrio as the occult specialist felt right. I really did like that even though this was essentially a horror about found footage, it wasn’t actually another ‘found footage’ horror movie. And that plays into how well the movie blended old and new technologies.
This is another one that has a sequel out there that I haven’t seen, but I’ll work on that. You just have to keep reading.
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