In Kyle Edward Ball’s feature debut, two children wake up in the middle of the night. Their father is gone, and all the doors and windows in their house have vanished. That’s about as much of a plot as you’re likely to get from this movie. It’s perhaps the most unique horror release we’re likely to get this year, blending wildly innovative experimentation with classic tropes for astounding results. While it may not be for everyone, I enjoyed this movie from start to finish. Using grainy cinematography, lo-fi sound design and smart camerawork, Ball crafts an unique horror that feels like a kind of existential journey. At its core, the film seems focused on the father’s role in the domestic, and how systems built off such hierarchies can be destructive and imprisoning.
One of the eeriest parts of this film is the way it creates a sense of alienation. Bell smartly turned his shoestring budget into an aesthetic strength. Despite having seen the movie, I couldn’t begin to describe what any of the characters look like. Along with a moody color palette, the camera was often drawn towards shadows. Combined with the use of lighting and low-angle shots, we never really see the characters. There are many times where they appear only by voice—and even then, the sound design is full of pops and hisses. Sometimes we only know what they’re saying when subtitles appear. This sense of distance is increased by the shot composition.
A lot of the film is comprised of longshots in liminal spaces: empty hallways or bedroom doors left open, dark corners of the room. The tension created by these moments is palpable, especially when we’re not given catharsis via jump scare, instead being left to wait with eyes glued to the screen. There are definitely moments that perhaps could’ve been edited a bit more tightly, but I think Ball’s choice to keep us in these tense scenes creates this build effect that’s incredibly effective once it pays off. My only complaint would be the way most of the actual scares in this film are centered around audio jump scares. After the second or third time, it becomes a tad predictable, and doesn’t always make the best use of the slow builds.
It’s in these slower moments that the film is at its most compelling, capturing the horrific eeriness hidden just beneath everyday life. The camera is mostly fixed atop a tripod, and when it stays still for so long in an empty room, it naturally emphasizes questions of the domestic. Themes of family and patriarchy arise as the children’s disembodied voices call for their father, with the only response being more horror. The mother’s an interesting figure, giving a ghostly appearance in the film but not making much of an impression on its plot. Overall, I think this film was an impressive exploration of tone, family and patriarchy. Sustaining so much tension for so long is no easy feat, especially when a filmmaker faces limitations due to budget. I’m glad that when I saw this movie, the theater was so packed. It’s a gem of experimental horror, and should be supported for taking big swings. If you're like me and didn't manage to catch this when it leaked online, be sure to watch it in select theaters, or stream it on Shudder tomorrow!