— by WILLIAM STERR —
Nothing like a vacation with a couple you’ve known for years … especially if they’ve brought along their two darling, rambunctious kids.
That’s probably what went through the minds of Ben and Margaret as they arranged with Ellie and Thomas to rent adjoining cabins for an isolated getaway, where they could renew their friendships and just have a great time away from the city, work and responsibilities.
Director Roxanne Benjamin sets us up for what looks like a weekend with potential problems between the characters. There’s tension between Ellie (Amanda Crew – “Most Wanted”) and Thomas (Carlos Santos – “The Valet”) that Ben (Zack Gilford – “The Purge: Anarchy”) and Margaret (Alicia Wainwright – “Raising Dion”) quickly pick upon.
The next day the four adults and Ellie and Thomas’ kids, Lucy (Briella Guiza – “Ambulance”) and Spencer (David Mattle – “Life & Beth”) go for a hike. They lose their way and have to machete a way forward, connecting to an older path that leads to a large brick wall and a cellar. Deciding to explore, they find it labyrinthine, and the kids get separated. When they find them again they are standing at the top of some steps, poised over a deep pit. The children talk about a light in the pit, but the adults see nothing and, with some resistance, take them out of the cellar and return to the cabins.
Once back at the cabins, the kids seem OK at first, but begin to express aggressiveness that especially concerns Ben. Feeling that the other couple could use an evening to themselves, Ben and Margaret agree to watch the kids for the night. But the kids sneak out and the next morning Ben and Margaret are in a panic – they were responsible and the kids are gone. So director Benjamin begins a disturbing series of events that test the bonds of family and friendship.
The kids are very well played by the young actors, and the mounting concern, eventually developing into anger and panic, is well acted by the adults. The directorial progression from good spirited to concerned to terrified is well handled. Cinematography is also good, especially in the woods and the ruins.
There are problems with the script, however. There is simply not enough exposition, and events lack motivation. What is going on in the ruins and why are the kids acting as they do? This leaves the viewer exactly that, an outsider with no way to understand what is happening and why – almost as if you’d missed critical parts of the film.
The musical score (by The Gifted – the question is at what?) has a certain tension to it, but is generally discordant and doesn’t add to the unfolding story. Instead, it distracts.
All in all, this is an OK movie if there is nothing better available, but the weakness of the story, with so much being inexplicable, is a major impediment. Maybe there was more footage shot, and salvation is on the cutting room floor. A re-editing could rescue what otherwise is a worthy effort.
The film is a production of Blumhouse, well known for horror and thrillers, but also well known for hits and misses. As it is, this is a miss.
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