Wildly over-praised by audiences desperate for a scary horror movie, this film has little more than the germ of a solid idea followed by a series of predictable cliches. It's a clever twist on the violent home-invasion scenario, fraught with family tensions and shifty characters. But the story develops without much sense of direction, and all of the scary bits are added in post-production through jolting editing and a freak-out sound mix.
It centres on a family gathering at a palatial summer home for the 35th anniversary of Paul and Aubrey (Moran and Crampton). All of their kids are here: Crispian (Bowen) is nervous about bringing his girlfriend (Vinson) to meet everyone, and his three siblings Felix, Aimee and Drake (Tucci, Swanberg and Seimetz) have also arrived with their respective partners (Glenn, Myers and West). The usual arguments are re-ignited at their first meal together, but they're quickly interrupted by a bigger problem: someone shoots an arrow through a window and begins picking them off one by one. As they are forced to work together, Erin rises to the challenge, leading the defence against the invaders.
The set-up is fairly simplistic, as the family members all have a sense of dread about this gathering, knowing that it's going to be tense. Then the fiendishly efficient attackers arrive, dressed like ninjas with animal masks, well-armed with knives, machetes, hatchets and cross-bows, plus booby traps to make the house itself a killing machine. None of this is very plausible, frankly. The actors aren't quite up to the challenge of making us believe the inter-relationships, and the plot is deeply contrived. The filmmakers seem determined to make a film without a single gun, which is intriguing until people pick up a tiny steak-knife to defend themselves when the handy baseball bat would be a lot more effective.
As things get increasingly nasty, the script reveals the reason why all of this is happening. But it's a simplistic explanation that really needs some character depth to make sense. Writer Barrett continually adds lazy plot points (a mobile phone jammer is the clumsiest one), while director Wingard never seems confident about the way a scene should go, which leaves some of the actors looking a bit ridiculous. He then adds lots of groaning noise on the soundtrack in an attempt to crank up the suspense. So after the clever opening sequence, the plot's twists and turns are mildly enjoyable but never remotely surprising.
Run time: 95 mins
In Theaters: Friday 23rd August 2013
Box Office USA: $18.5M
Box Office Worldwide: $14.3M
Distributed by: Lionsgate
Production compaines: HanWay Films, Snoot Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 74%
Fresh: 103 Rotten: 36
IMDB: 6.5 / 10
Director: Adam Wingard
Producer: Simon Barrett, Keith Calder, Kim Sherman, Jessica Wu
Screenwriter: Simon Barrett
Starring: Sharni Vinson as Erin, Nicholas Tucci as Felix, Wendy Glenn as Zee, AJ Bowen as Crispian, Joe Swanberg as Drake, Margaret Laney as Kelly, Amy Seimetz as Aimee, Ti West as Tariq, Rob Moran as Paul Davison, Barbara Crampton as Aubrey, L.C. Holt as Lamb Mask, Simon Barrett as Tiger Mask, Lane Hughes as Fox Mask, Kate Lyn Sheil as Talia, Larry Fessenden as Erik Harson
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