Don’t look for anything original in this effective creeper. It keeps its focus limited and harsh, and delivers some creepy chills in an hour and a half. But nothing about it should keep you up at night, it’s that forgettable.
But I think writer-director Osgood Perkins is pleased with that result. The son of Anthony Perkins, it’s almost too perfect that he would film a blood-spattered maniac-driven story, especially one where two murders go unpunished. But don’t even think it tries to emulate master Hitchcock. Its effectiveness is closer to middle-period Roger Corman (The Pit and the Pendulum) or a Twilight Zone with Satan in a cameo.
There’s no blood-letting at all until the last twenty minutes – but then, watch out! Set in a Catholic school for girls in a chilly, snowbound suburb in New York, it begins on the night the parents arrive to take their daughters home for the holidays. But nobody shows up for two girls: a freshman, Kat (Kiernan Shipka), and a senior, the dark and beautiful Rose (Lucy Boynton). Kat, icy and withdrawn, tells the headmaster there’s only a delay, that her parents will arrive later. She says her father assures her of this when she calls him. Rose is nonchalant about it. She seems glad to stay at the school with only two female staff on hand; is she hiding something? The headmaster bids Rose to watch out for the younger Kat while he is away.
But after this set-up, the story switches to Joan, played by Emma Roberts, a young blonde woman who is waiting at a bus stop some miles away. A car carrying a middle-aged couple stops near her. The man comes out to ask why she is waiting there, shivering in the cold. She accepts his offer for a lift. He tells her that he is always trying to find God in unexpected places (Uh-oh). Later, when they stop at a diner, Joan finds out disturbing secrets about the couple.
Both stories are intercut, with no apparent connection between them, for most of the film.
Kiernan Shipka, as Kat, was Jon Hamm’s daughter in Mad Men. I still remember her outraged scream, “Grandfather is dead. He’s dead!” But this role is flat, unshaded. She’s just a demonic tween with a stare that can kill. And she uses other weapons too.
Of course the “loose” girl gets what’s coming to her, as well as those unlucky enough to get in the way. They’re more like “murder props” than actors. Emma Roberts, as Joan, gets to shed real tears, but her role is a red herring anyway. If the film aspired to more, I would feel cheated by the ending.
The positive is that Perkins scaled the film at such a modest level, you’re not disappointed. His brother, Elvis Perkins, did the music according to the same game plan. A relentless rollout of pure creepiness; unsubtle but effective. It certainly pulls you in.