Allumination Filmworks // 2007 // 85 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas // February 1st, 2008
Some Secrets Are Better Kept in the Dark. Some Films are Best Kept in a Compost Heap.
Pity the poor attic. All it wants to do it provide you with a convenient place to store stuff. And yet, it endured humiliations galore all in the name of giving us thrills. Forever packed with cobwebs, mysterious trunks, outdated clothes, and, of course, the conveniently-placed full length mirror whose primary function is to reveal something behind us that we didn't see before. Not to mention the gable window, from which a parade of victims have been flung. Occasionally, it gets a chance to stretch its wings, such as in The War of the Roses, when Kathleen Turner gives a little treat to Michael Douglas. But then, even that brief light turns to horror again, as Turner -- no, it's too painful to even think about it.
Oh, attic, how you long to let the world know of your true self -- the impish wit, the insouciance...alas, it is not to be. I'm sorry, dear attic, but thanks to Allumination Filmworks, there's one more indignity that you must suffer. To add insult to injury, they named it after you.
In a prologue clearly indebted to (read that "blatantly ripped off from") The Ring, a nubile young lass carefully paints her toenails in the bath. She relaxes into the bubbles. A shadowy figure crosses our field of vision at the end of the hall. Startled, the girl, whom whispery voices name Ava, steps out of the tub. We get a close-up of her foot so that we can see that there is no nail polish on her toes. SPOOKY! Maybe this is a remake of The Ring for foot fetishists. Ava runs into her room, arming herself with a pair of scissors, but not before carefully wrapping her wet hair in a towel. Good plan -- mustn't fall victim to split ends. She calls through the door that she has a gun. Then, because these movies require characters with the mental capacity of a lobotomized flea, she goes out into the hall, where any intruder would be able to see that she does not, in fact, have a gun. She stops at the attic stairs, and starts to go up, because when you think there's an intruder in the house, the one place you want to go is a place with no alternate means of escape. A few steps up, though, a figure appears, dressed in the same nightgown as her, but no funky towel wrap on the head. Startled, Ava bolts for the front door, losing her towel of protection in the process. She'll catch her death of cold, I just know it. More scary voices, shadowy figures, running barefoot through the forest, coming face to face with herself wearing The Grudge makeup, yada yada yada, dead girl on the ground.
Next, it's thirty years later (though we don't find this out until the end of the movie). The Callan family has been in the house a month. Emma (Elisabeth Moss, The West Wing) starts college the next day. Her older brother Frankie (Tom Malloy, who also wrote this thing) has just returned from spending six months living on his own. Frankie is somewhat slow, but is devoted to Emma. There's a somewhat pleasant family dinner with the parents, Graham (John Savage, Summer of Sam) and Kim (Catherine Mary Stewart, Night of the Comet). That night, Emma gets up for a late-night snack. Hearing ominous sounds outside, Emma leaves her snack on a table and goes out on the front porch, where she sees a vision of herself, chalk white, twitching like an epileptic belly dancer on crystal meth, with a towel around her head. (Maybe Ava has to be reunited with her favorite towel before she can go into the light? I dunno). A light bulb blows out, and Emma wakes up from a bad dream.
Or does she? In the morning, when she ventures downstairs, she sees her abandoned snack still on the table, and the front door still ajar. Her mother, eating breakfast downstairs, apparently didn't see fit to pick up the bowl or close the door. That day was to be Emma's first day of classes, but lately, Emma has been reluctant to leave the house, and she begs off.
That night, Emma hears strange voices coming from the attic. So naturally, in the middle of the night, she goes up to check it out. Frightened by a spectral image that looks kind of like herself in The Grudge makeup, she falls out of the attic, hitting her head on the floor below. Before she blacks out, Grudge-Emma stares at her from the attic opening. Paramedics and police arrive to check out the situation, but all of them dismiss her claims, except for the attractive paramedic/detective John Trevor (Jason Lewis, The Jacket), who not only believes her, but does a little detective work for Emma on the side. When Emma discovers a birth certificate taped to the wall of her bedroom, John agrees to run it down. The results are chilling -- Emma had a twin sister, whom her father let die shortly after their birth because of a major birth defect. Now Emma's trying to figure out if her sister Beth is reaching out from beyond the grave, or if her father, consumed by guilt, is now trying to gaslight and/or kill Emma. Emma's shrink tries to help Emma out, but sad to say, she's trapped in this miserable plot.
Yeah, there's more to it, but I just can't make myself do it. This is a bad movie. Avoid it at all costs. You know the old cliché about how stupid characters are in a typical slasher movie? Those guys look like Albert friggin' Einstein compared to every freaking character in this misbegotten mess.
You get a hint at what's ahead when you pick up the package, which trumpets that the film is directed by Mary Lambert, "the director of Pet Semetary." I've got some advice for Allumination -- unless his name is David Lean, the fact that your director's previous hit was almost twenty years ago is generally not a good sign.
Let me spare you all: The house somehow drives Emma stark raving mad; she imagines a twin sister, imagines a plot against her, imagines pretty much everything, and she ends up killing her brother and then her parents before killing herself. Her shrink explaining to the police how Emma created Beth, that Beth was real to Emma (hmmm, where have we seen that scene before...). The movie ends with another family moving in; the daughter goes up to the attic to find...don't even worry about it; it doesn't make any sense anyway.
For a plot like this to have any chance of success, the film has to show things strictly from Emma's point of view to maintain the illusion. But at least on two occasions, we see something ominous happening in one room when we know that Emma's not in a position to see it, undermining the entire premise that Emma herself is imagining or doing these things. A key plot device offers similar consistency issues: Emma is afraid to leave the house. Supposedly the house itself triggered it, but the prologue shows the girl running out of the house before meeting her predictable end, so there's nothing to link past events in the house to Emma's agoraphobia. And how does Frankie hear "Beth" calling to him from the woods, when Emma is standing right beside him? And why does it take a month for the house to get things into gear? Did it have to wait for escrow to close?
The plot bashing could go on for days, but I'll limit myself to the three most obvious and most egregious:
1. Your daughter refuses to leave the house. This goes on for over a month before you think to bring in a psychologist?
2. You are a psychologist. Your patient is clearly displaying signs of borderline schizophrenia. Why don't you realize that you're out of your league, and bring in a psychiatrist? Why isn't she medicated? Why does taking her to a hospital only become an option after she's killed her brother?
3. "John" gives Emma a gun for protection. John is later revealed as a figment of Emma's imagination, yet the gun is real.
Acting is all over the place. Elisabeth Moss did a nice job on The West Wing, but this type of role is a far cry from Zoe Bartlett, and the script doesn't do her many favors. She has a number of good scenes, but she can't quite sell the total package, particularly at the end. John Savage tries to walk a fine line, appearing to be Scheming Jerk Dad when he's really Concerned Jerk Dad, but more often than his expression suggests that he's trying to figure out if he's really in this crap movie or just in an awful nightmare about being in a bad movie. That, or he ate some really bad clams. Catherine Mary Stewart doesn't have enough screen time to even register as a character. Jason Lewis does what he can with his part as the detective/inappropriate love interest/nonsensical plot contrivance, but as that description suggests, the demands of the story substantially limit his options.
Video is unremarkable. Shadowy figures are suitably shadowy. Colors are a touch washed out, but that appears to be the palette they were going for.
The audio fares better, though. The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix uses a lot of ambient sound to generate mood. The sound mixer gets additional points for keeping that sound, for the most part, low key -- too many horror movies these days crank up the background sound like a Michael Bay movie on acid.
Extras are slim -- a theatrical trailer for this film, along with trailers for four other Allumination Filmworks releases.
There are a lot of little details scattered throughout that hint at the truth, and in the few scenes in which Emma "sees" John in a room with other people are blocked well enough that you never really notice that Emma is the only one who acknowledges his presence. And while it's nice that such details are included, the fact remains that once the pieces are assembled, the resulting picture makes no sense.
The opening is cribbed from The Ring. A key concluding scene is lifted from Psycho. In between are chunks of The Shining and innumerable other haunted house films, partially digested and then regurgitated into a steaming, fetid mass.
The defendants like The Attic so much? Let them rot there.
Review content copyright © 2008 Jim Thomas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Allumination Filmworks
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Theatrical Trailer