Forced to become a live-in caregiver to her agoraphobic Aunt Dora, Adele spends her days quietly tending to her chores or making friends with animals. Living with someone who refuses to even step foot outside of their bedroom doesn’t make for good company. When she meets the vivacious and outgoing Beth, Adele’s moral boundaries are tested in way they never were before in a desperate bid to win her friendship. Beth’s darkness threatens to swallow Adele’s innocence for good, as well as her sanity.
Set during the Reagan era, writer/director A.D. Calvo has crafted a gothic horror tale fitting of the ‘70s horror that it draws inspiration from. Clear influences from masters like Mario Bava, or Dan Curtis’ Burnt Offerings, permeates throughout as Calvo works hard to capture that hazy ‘70s aesthetic. From the title card right down to the minute details, the time period is meticulously constructed around the eerie, large Victorian house in which most of the film takes place. Aunt Dora is a foreboding presence in the house, as her condition keeps her almost entirely obstructed from view. That she only communicates by way of hand written notes only furthers her likeness to a ghost haunting a large, creepy house.
On her own, Erin Wilhelmi perfectly captures Beth’s sweet innocence that draws a viewer into an already quiet narrative, but paired with Quinn Shephard’s free-spirited Beth they both get lost in heavy handed metaphors. Both in personality and visually, Beth and Adele are literal renditions of light and dark. Beth wears nothing but dark clothing and makeup, and could care less about the rules. Adele’s pale blonde hair and skin provide stark contrast. It’s only as Beth’s friendship starts to corrupt her that we see Adele exploring with darker clothing and makeup. An overt nod to Beth’s corruption.
Similar to Ti West’s The Innkeepers, Calvo’s gothic tale is the definitive slow burn. Favoring a slow simmering tension that bubbles over at the very last minute, the deliberate pacing is likely to put a lot of viewers off. It does make the final act more effective than it would had Calvo peppered in more scares throughout, though. It’s that muted unease throughout that makes the climax so startling, as though you’d forgotten this was a horror movie.
Calvo’s latest has a vintage horror vibe to it that works. It’s a silent chill that rushes up your spine out of nowhere. So focused on nailing the effective atmosphere, though, the narrative is left exposed to plot holes. Loose threads that threaten to unravel if pulled. There are also many questions left unanswered, though Calvo succeeds at driving his main point home. While the clues are likely there, they’re obscured by the clumsy handling of the obvious good versus evil battle at the forefront. This isn’t a literal ghost story, but it the haunting, atmospheric elements that invoke classic ‘70s fare is the most compelling aspect of the film. It’s Adele and Beth’s central psychodrama that drags the film down.
Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl [FF Review]