Directed By: Kasra Farahani
Starring: James Caan, Logan Miller, Keir Gilchrist
For Fans Of: Rear Window, It Follows
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Let's get one thing out the way about this film first, and that is that I think the initial outlay of the movie is utterly ludicrous. This film starts with two high school age lads who have somehow acquired, not only the money but also the skill level and technology, to plant hidden cameras all over their elderly neighbours house for the purpose of using elaborate methods to make it seem like his home is haunted. This includes technology to make the electrics go off, radios to switch on, windows to crack and doors to slam. To think that two teenage boys could be capable of this is clearly dumb and let's face it, at that age their only difficult accomplishment would probably be forging a bong out of a regular bottle of pop whilst hiding it from mom. But regardless of this fact I had faith that beyond this initial bullshit, I would find a fairly decent thriller.
Well yes and no actually. With a thriller you would perhaps expect a lot more pulse racing action to occur but instead it is actually quite soft in that regard. But what it has got in bucket loads is gripping story points. That's not to say it was a brilliant story. Confused? Let me try to explain, throughout this movie there were plenty of occasions where it would simply lull you into a false sense of “I don't think I’m enjoying this, maybe it's not that interesting” and then suddenly a layer would be peeled off the onion to reveal a much more twisted onion. Ok so dumb analogy, dumber than thinking two lads could do this, but are you now getting my point? With each revealed layer the plot thickened up more and more and in the end what happens was completely different to what I expected going in. I thought this would be a cliche’d “neighbour is a bad man, has something in his basement the kids next door find out about” movie, yet I was pleasantly surprised at the twist on this idea and that made me enjoy the story for its peaks despite its troughs.
Shades of rear window were evident as the kids spied on their old neighbour, who they were convinced was guilty of something sinister, as they carried out their “experiment”. But what was perhaps different was the way this film was structured. It mixed three timelines to tell the story, flashbacks were used to fill in gaps of the old man's past, home video camera shots of the boys were used for the bulk of the actual story and more interestingly a present courtroom case was used to prepare us that something bad had developed throughout the “experiment”. The courtroom was revealed very early, which you might say was very risky in a thriller. Usually the suspense of not knowing what has happened is the key to a film of this sort and I think it just about revealed enough in these scenes to leave enough suspense hanging.
It was almost a tightrope walk from the director, Kasra Farahani, in that regard but I do think he just about got away with it and created a very decent gripping film for his first full feature. Though the story could admittedly be thought of as flawed and I’m sure some people will completely disagree with my verdict on how it was told too, what made the story work for me was a stunning performance by James Caan. Without him driving this movie I fear it could have been a far less interesting affair. He plays Harold Grainey, who at first we're led to believe is a horrible old man, who was a drunk that used to beat his wife before she died. A truly awful git who deserved this “haunting” the lads had conceived for him and he plays that role very well at the beginning, despite sporadic screen time. When he is on the screen is when the film is truly mesmerising and the further the story goes, the further this character grows and his performance just gets better and better as the film continues.
Aside James were two decent performances from the two young lads. Keir Gilchrist playing Sean and Logan Miller playing his fame hungry pal Ethan. At times the two threatened to be a little too 'obnoxious teenager' but just about reeled themselves in and I think they worked off each other well. As already mentioned it was completely unfathomable that these two could conjure this elaborate experiment but there was enough boyish charm at times to make me forget how ridiculous it was. Sadly the worst parts of this movie did include the lads, a few scenes which just threatened to lose my interest as they were plotting their next moves or whether what they were doing was right. What fell even more flat was an underlying message at the danger of seeking celebrity status. This was more than a little over the top and seemed almost unnecessary, especially toward the end. I’d even go as far to say as the final scene of the movie could easily have been left out and no one would have minded.
To conclude, I expect this to be hit and miss for some of you, it's more than a little unconventional but this was a thoughtful thriller that was well played out in my opinion. The drama of the story pulls you in and despite some scenes falling flat, it had more than enough to take you to the end wanting to know what happened. In the end we are left with feelings of empathy and even a slight tug on the heartstrings as the story concludes, which is uncommon for a film labelled as a thriller. However, this was no ordinary run of the mill thriller, that's for sure. One thing I am sure about is that everyone will enjoy James Caan’s performance as the mysterious “good” neighbour.