As many of you who follow this blog know, I generally write about horror movies or the Catholic Church. Often at the same time because I also do use this blog for shameless self-promotion. Just look at all of the posts about Ave Maria. (cheap plug)
But whenever I see a film that uses the sexual abuse of a kid as a plot device, I usually groan or eventually shut it off. Not that it’s too painful but because they rarely get it right. Take Jon Avnet’s Righteous Kill. What a cast! Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino! What can go wrong? Nothing until the big reveal (spoiler) that Pacino’s character has become an amoral killer/rapist because he was sexually abused by a priest as a kid. Yeah, that’s what happens to us. The only people who may find me amoral live beyond the Vatican walls. I mean do you think I’ll get an invitation from Pope Francis when he visits Boston this September?
Hence my first feature Trinity which is well into post-production. Let’s kind of get that story right. Ahem, but enough self-promotion.
As many of you may also know from this blog every year I host the Shawna Shea Film Festival, which is a fundraiser that supports the Shawna Shea Memorial Foundation. Of which submissions will be open very, very soon.
The unfortunate (euphemism) part about this is that I do this because I lost my daughter Shawna in a car accident in 1999. She was only sixteen. Devastating everyone, but especially her identical twin sister Erin. Which is why I would hate a movie like Single White Female. Talk about plot device gone wrong. Ugh. Even the title is about the almost fully entitled. But not quite, right single white guys?
Which is why, when I see grieving parents as a plot device I tend to get a little nervous. Where will they screw it up here? Being genre specific, it makes sense. There isn’t anything more horrific than losing a child. And some of them have done an okay job, even if it is only a plot device to move the story forward. And it is the type of story that can hit a general audience if done right. Regardless of the accuracy to folks like me,
Other’s include the must see Nicolas Roeg’s brilliant 1973 film Don’t Look Now, Lars von Trier’s 2009 film Antichrist with a must see performance by Charlotte Gainsbourg and the hidden gem David Keating’s 2011 film Wake Wood, an amazing folk horror film starring Eva Birthistle and Aidan Gillen as the grieving parents. And the rarity where both get it right.
The list of good films begins and ends there. Any others that used this as a plot device simply don’t hit the mark. Not from my vantage point. Until now.
Two films played at the Stanley Horror Film Festival in Estes Park this past May that use this same plot device. Needless to say, I was already dreading it. I saw it as another chance to get it wrong. But both succeeded.
The Invitation doesn’t only use grieving parents as a plot device to forward the story. it is actually about grieving parents. Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and Eden (Tammy Blanchard) were once part of a happy loving family until the death of their son rips the family apart. Eden has been gone for two years and returns inviting close friends to her house with her new partner David (Michiel Huisman) who have been in Mexico learning a New Age way to deal with life’s pain and tragedies. They want to share their knowledge. As it is a genre film their solution may be a bit radical but I don’t want to ruin this with spoilers. Worth noting are the direction and performances by both Marshall-Green and Blanchard. Will’s hyper vigilance that borders insanity is a huge part of grieving. The world is no longer safe and danger is seen everywhere. Even where it may not exist. And Eden’s detached acceptance is that strange contrary place that is always a facade to hide the pain. Which is torn away near the end when in the midst of insane chaos and pain, she finally admits how much she misses her son. Which is worse than any of the madness around them. Both give tremendous performances.
We Are Still Here uses grieving as a plot device, much like The Changeling to tell a separate ghost story. Including a nod to the latter with a ball bouncing down the stairs. A couple, Anne and Paul Sacchetti (Barbara Crampton and Andrew Sensenig) move to a new house in the dead of winter to start a new life after the loss of their son. Many people who experience sever shock and trauma often feel like the veil between the worlds is very thin. If not ripped apart. Anne feels the spirit of her son around. She finds messages everywhere. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who defined the stages of grief, wrote about after death communication. Including her own experiences. So are they getting communication with their son or is it something a little more sinister? Anne needed to find a way to communicate, including bringing in her psychic friends played wonderfully by Lisa Marie and Larry Fessenden who quickly realize it is the latter. A sinister secret that seems to be kept by the entire town lead by the creepy Dave McCabe played by one of my favorite character actors Monte Markham to perfection. And as it is with genre films, all hell breaks loose at the end. Like Sam Peckilnpah’s Straw Dogs meet Lucio Fulci’s House by the Cemetery. Can’t get much better than that. Credit director Ted Geoghegan and producer Travis Stevens for knowing how to set the proper tone and pace of the film for the ending to have the hardest hitting impact.
Barbara Crampton’s performance is the standout of the film. With a similar character as Julie Christie’s in Don’t Look Now, Crampton’s Anne needs to make sense of the senseless. In Don’t Look Now Julie Christie always looked like, well, Julie Christie. But Crampton takes on the physical form of a grieving parent, looking drawn, exhausted and always on the verge of tears. She doesn’t look like Barbara Crampton you expect. She nails it.