Rated R mainly because it's a horror movie about kidnapping and murdering little kids. That should be your big red flag right there. But if you are oddly cool with kidnapping and murdering kids, know that there's some swearing and fighting and blood. One kid gets wrecked by another kid and that's just supposedly normal. Also, the swearing is done by little kids. There's also child abuse. So, really, offensive things happening with kids.
DIRECTOR: Scott Derrickson
See, I didn't know that this was adapted from a Joe Hill short story. I kind of love Joe Hill. I certainly haven't read everything Joe Hill, but I've read my fair share of Joe Hill stuff. There's something even more upsetting about the work of Joe Hill than that of his father, Stephen King. I don't know how I recognize Joe Hill stuff quite yet, but just seeing his name pop up in the opening credits was a bonus for me. In terms of interest garnered in the opening credits, there's also Scott Derrickson. I only really know Derrickson from his work on Doctor Strange and the low-key controversy with him leaving Multiverse of Madness. But add onto the fact that this was on Peacock, I was definitely going to watch it.
I also was intrigued because one of my students said it was the only movie he ever walked out of. That blew my mind. I asked him why he left, not caring about spoilers, and he stated that it all took place in one location. I used this opportunity to show the Community clip explaining "bottle episodes" and realized I kind of like bottle episodes. In this case, it's mostly a bottle movie. It's not perfectly a bottle movie. This isn't that Ryan Reynolds movie where he's in a grave and it isn't Phone Booth either. But this movie shares a lot of DNA with bottle storylines. A majority of the film takes place in the Grabber's basement. Bottle storylines work really well with horror for me because we are left with the same questions that the protagonist has. That third person limited perspective forces us to try to solve the same problem that the hero does. We use all of the elements of the room to try to take down the Grabber and we tend to yell at he screen advice more than unearned knowledge. There's something truly upsetting in not knowing what the stakes of the film are.
I'll explain the moment where I realized that giving me limited knowledge helped this film. It's the phone call with the Grabber leaving the door unlocked. This is the first time that we really have a conversation with one of the dead kids. The kid warns Finney that his is part of his trap, the killer's M.O. If Finney takes advantage of the open door, the beginning of the end will start. Now, from our perspective, we have no reason to think that ghosts haunt the phone. After all, a bunch of kids have been killed up to this point and I don't think that they had help from the paranormal. And because Finney is cautious about going up the stairs, we discover that the ghost phone call is actually true in real time. But the movie allows for the fact that the phone call might have been Finney's own self-doubts and fears. For all we know, Finney may have lost an opportunity to escape. While a sizable percent of me would have loved to play The Shining card, wondering if Finney really was receiving help from beyond or if he simply had lost his mind, I acknowledge that the story doesn't really allow for that interpretation of events. The ghosts need to exist for the story to play out.
But that same element, of having a limited perspective, never explains why Finney is special. The Grabber stresses that Finney is special, which confuses him. His sister, stealing Stephen King Daddy's Shining, also has an ability that is unexplained. And the movie really thrives on the idea that there is something unhealthy about these abilities while simultaneously stressing that these abilities need to be acknowledged and fosters. But the movie doesn't give us very much. Instead, we're left to our own devices, telling a larger scoped story that the rest of the film doesn't dare provide for us. After all, The Grabber is clearly a maniac. He talks about a broken phone that rings for him. The ghosts stress that The Grabber hears the phone ring in the same way that Finney hears, yet it seems like Finney is the only one who can have communication on this broken phone. And I know that, if this movie is super successful (and I don't know if it is or not), there will be a temptation to explain all of these things. And there's absolutely no reason to deep dive into whatever is granting a connection between Finney and the Grabber.
I don't think that I've written too much, but it is also based on a short story. As much as I liked it, it is one plot point belabored for an entire movie. I don't fault it because it does work to the notion that everything that happens in this basement matters and contributes to Finney's eventual escape. But what I do find as something that I want to talk about is Gwen's abuse. I'm sure that this element is in Hill's story because it just feels like it should be a Joe Hill story. But I'm mostly talking about how Gwen has to hide her gift from her father in fear of being beaten. It is this interesting idea. Instead of fostering her gift, she's being forced down this road that led to her mother's death. Sure, Terrence, Gwen's father, is trying to prevent the madness from being genetic. That makes for a compelling character, one who is flawed and who has let his good intentions make him into a monster. But do you know the consequence for the movie as a whole? We have to somehow forgive Terrence for his child abuse. The movie ends. Gwen and Finney are sitting on the back of an ambulance, typical movie where they have blankets and all that. And Terrence comes bursting through the police barricade and embraces his children because they've been returned to him. He apologizes to Gwen for doubting her vision and stifling any attempt to get Finney back.
But she shouldn't forgive him. Do you know why? There's the child abuse, which is unforgivable. But even more so, Terrence is a full-blown alcoholic. The reason that he's so quick to really beat his kids is because alcoholism is real and it impairs judgment. The idea that Finney killed a dude is hyper traumatic and he needs a stable figure in his life. Maybe, and this is me reaching, Finney and the Grabber share the idea of not trusting adults in their lives because they are abusive when it comes to recognizing gifts. After all, Finney has now learned that he could kill someone given the proper motivation. His father is a villain. Sure, he's potentially not as evil as the Grabber. But there is evil there that the movie wants us to forgive a bit. And I can't. Neither should the kids. I love that Finney asks the girl he likes to "Call him 'Finn'", but that doesn't change that this is a deeply traumatized kid and that therapy is important.
But ultimately, I really liked the movie. I don't get how a student could find this boring. But again, attention spans are really subjective. I remember not liking Casablanca for the same reason when I was a kid. Sure, this is a scary horror movie. But folks are folks. I think it is pretty solid.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.