When I first heard about this re-make, I purposefully did not see the first one. I wanted to judge it on its own merit. I wanted to see if this movie could stand on its own two feet and I didn’t want to be constantly making parallels to the original. All too often re-makes are just a hollow mimic of what was a refreshing and original movie. Look at what happened in the late 90s and early 2000s with Japanese and Korean cinema. “The Ring”, “The Grudge” and others were exciting movies that kept great secrets and twists until the end. The US couldn’t remake them to be any better, so they just re-shot them in English. Remakes have a history of not living up to the originals but the trailer for this movie had me pretty stoked.
Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) and her father John (Adam Trese) return to the family vacation home after many years away. Mansion would be a better word. They’ve come with a purpose; to fix it up so they can sell it. In the time they have been away, squatters have moved in and vandals have smashed all of the windows. The house is now completely boarded up being lit exclusively by candles, battery powered lanterns and flashlights. The house is dusty, dilapidated and has a mould problem. Plastic covers most of the furniture adding an element of “haunted house”. John and his brother, Peter (Eric Sheffer Stevens) have a disagreement resulting in Peter storming off, leaving Sarah and her dad alone in the house. Or so they think.
This movie is shot in one take. That’s an impressive, laborious and painstaking technique. Sarah is the main character and the camera doesn’t stray too far from her, in fact quite a lot of the time we feel as though we’re invading her personal space. Claustrophobia is prevalent throughout this movie right from the beginning; Sarah walks from the lake directly into the stifling house. Although it’s large, the sense of space shrinks to the circle of light from the lantern, or the beam of the flashlight.
I like the minimalist style. The one shot POV angle to the almost nonexistent soundtrack is a creative way to tell the story. Focus pulling is also a great technique. Blurring out characters in the background creates some great nuance, especially when that space was in focus seconds ago. This overall minimal style draws more attention to the visuals and the characters, so they need to be better.
The fear and tension are immediate. At the first noises from the upper level, Sarah is nearly hyperventilating but it seems a bit too soon for that level of fear. Her acting is pretty good, but because she is terrified and whimpering for most of the movie it becomes a bit too much, or a bit of “the same”.
The pacing would have benefitted from some editing. Some scenes were too long and some dialogue seemed excessive. The “one take” technique is certainly ambitious, but it could have been done better. I felt there was some sacrifice as the directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau were focusing more on the production and technique than character development and narrative. We know nothing about Sarah, her dad and her uncle. We just know what is happening right now, which leaves us with a bit of apathy towards all of them.
I love twists and surprise endings. That’s the main reason I love seeing new movies in the theatre – I don’t know what happens at the end, or at least I don’t want to know what happens until the end. Three quarters of the way through, I saw what was coming. They telegraphed what was coming next and it was disappointing. I was really enjoying it until then. It wouldn’t have taken very much to tweak this movie into something great, but sadly, it just fell short.
One last nit-picky thing. Please don’t use the hundred thousand watt sound system in the theatre to make people jump. A good story should do that on its own.
I think I’ll see the original now and I suspect it’ll be much better. I give this a 5 out of 10.