Let me preface this review by saying I don't dislike Canada. And that there will be spoilers.

I have blood relatives who disagreed with politics a while back, and decided to up stakes and move their left-wing selves to the Land of the Great White North. My mother and father now live outside of the Nation's Capital, and I am a regular visitor.

I've travelled enough, therefore, to know there are some things certain cultures shouldn't do. The French shouldn't try to do a "First Blood" type movie. Saudi Arabia shouldn't attempt to host International World Women's Day. And Canada really shouldn't try to make horror movies.

Netflix gives us this gem of a movie, which starts in a perfectly bland nice suburban house with Lisa, her forgettable younger brother, and her unnamed parents. Dad's in the garage pounding on the engine block to try and get it to work right, mom is making Mac and Cheese and meat loaf and no matter what time of day, outside the house it's dark and foggy. They wake up every day the same way and do exactly the same things. She wakes up in her bedroom, festooned with The Smiths and Echo and the Bunnymen and wears her Siouxsie and the Banshees T-shirt to the same pancake breakfast she's had for a length of time she cannot remember.

Anyone who's seen Beetlejuice and Groundhog Day - from where these set pieces were ripped off - has worked out immediately that Lisa and her family are dead. They're ghosts. Although she's trapped in a weird time loop and can't escape the house - no matter where she tries to go on her bike, she ends up back at the house - she doesn't realize she's dead until a telephone repairman (the phones are dead, natch) shows up to "check the jacks" and corners her in her bedroom to tell her she's dead and to stop trying to contact the living or else she'll be in a serious world of torment, as will be her family. But it turns out that AS a ghost, she's dead, she can't die again, and neither of them can actually hurt the other.

Turns out it's "his" house and he's master of it all, including what she perceives and doesn't. He proves this by accelerating time and she watches the rest of her family rot away and turn to dust. Screaming that she doesn't want to be alone, she ends up back where she is, with her mom fixing mac and cheese and telling her to do the laundry. COLD WATER ONLY. The consummate rebel that she is, SHE WASHES THE CLOTHES ON HOT.

Some very confusing narrative happens where she gets flashbacks of a kind: strange apparitions, people telling her to look under the floorboards, etc. She finds a scrapbook with pictures of dead teenagers and news clippings about the murderer has struck again. She follows a small door in the laundry room into a water-filled crypt filled with bones and the personal effects of a generation of dead people. When she touches things that belong to other people, she's transported - first forward in time to a living girl in 201X who's about to die, and some girl in the 1950s who the murderer first murdered.

Again, yes, it's the guy whose house it is, the creepy looking dude who pretended to be a phone repairman. Turns out he has a bit of a thing for putting ether over people's mouths, then putting them in his garage and leaving the engine running. Having died just before Lisa's family moved in, he turned to haunting and possessing people and taking them over to do the same thing. She figures out what's wrong with the time loop: her own father started smoking, for example after breakfast - because the latest guy who's about to kill the living girl is an abusive jerk who throws pans around, threatens the mother, and so forth. The living girl has done enough research on the place to know that it was inhabited by a serial killer who's now possessing family members and killing them by subtly taking over their personalities and having them attack and asphyxiate rest of the family. You know, subtly - by having them pound on the engine block with a hammer screaming about missing spark plugs and threatening to knock the ever loving shit out of the mom. Because that's what you do to lull people into a false sense of security.

Sort of like the guy who inhabits your dreams and can take over the dream world you're in. But there's no Elms outside...

After some very confusing meta-narrative that doesn't make sense the upshot is: the brother remembers he's dead when he finds his glasses, the mom does when she finds the missing laundry. Only Lisa's father's in the dark, and she gets him to remember by having him find the spark plugs he hid from himself in a desperate attempt to stave off their deaths  (which is why the living modern dad can't find the ones from his car... wait, what?) - which obviously would work - hiding the spark plugs from yourself in an easily accessible paint can. This doesn't do the trick, so she has him install them and then it comes back, and he's awash in guilt which Lisa assuages by saying he was possessed at the time, it's OK. As a result the house starts rejecting them and Lisa suggests they leave. As they go outside they see light in the distance and run towards it - except Lisa, who apologizes and says she loves them all but opts to stay.

Because she first tries to summon all the dead people by gathering up their belongings in the ossuary and massaging them and saying please come back I can't take him on alone. Then she ends up ether'd and tied up with duct tape in the back of the latest car. Burning through the duct tape, her hands are free and when the ghost of the killer comes in to start the engine, to kill them all, revealing the front license plate to be from Ontario, explaining why this movie doesn't really work.

She "regains consciousness" and strangles him long enough to get the keys and hurl them beyond the front yard boundary, which he as a ghost can't cross either without falling into Oblivion which is a fate worse than death. Don't try too hard to ask how in hell Lisa was able to bicycle well past the driveway of the house in the fog in Act 1 without ending up in Oblivion, but still. Here I was thinking that being stuck in a suburban Canadian home with your family was Hell, but it turns out it's just Limbo or something.

He points out he has the spare keys and goes back inside to kill everyone, until the cavalry show up. A small legion of zombie-looking girls walk up as fog takes over the front lawn. He looks left! He looks right! OMG they're gonna take him down. By shoving him beyond the lawn boundary? By tearing him apart limb from limb? Nope. THEY POINT.

They look at him and literally do the "you know what you did" Guilt Stare and it immediately places him in the furnace of the house, screaming and on fire. Who knew all you had to do was just look, point, shake your head and be like "pfft, that just wasn't right of ya, eh?" and that somehow ends up putting you in hell, which as we now know is a badly maintained Rick Menard Heating and Cooling furnace in the basement? (Hey wait a minute, isn't that how the townspeople killed off Freddy Kruger to start the whole Elm Street movie franchise off?) All the sudden the bacon-scented, maple syrup flavored, French on one side of the box, English on the other bitchslap makes me realize what was utterly wrong with this movie. You cannot make a "nice" horror movie. One where nobody's really in any peril, where people watch a family member hurl dishes around and threaten to loosen all of mom's teeth with one punch and be all like "aw, geeze, sorry eh?" Where the method of murder isn't evisceration, stabbing, or anything grisly, gory, scary, or in any way suspenseful. Just "Rick" from Canadian Tire putting a girl in the back of a car and leaving the engine running. Peaceful, not painful or threatening. Kinda gentle in an inoffensive way. It's like they took a whole bunch of ideas from better movies and tried to show the world how to do it better, by doing it not-scary nor having it make any sense.

It also explains why the moody, broody Goth teenager with the Britsh New Romantic poster wall's clearly a rebel and testing those boundaries - by turning the dial on the washing machine to "Hot" for a few moments when mom isn't looking. Then turning it back. She then storms off to her bedroom to play Peter and the Wolf on her clarinet. I am not making this up.

I checked the running time of this film, and it's an hour and a half, though it felt like five. Apart from a few attempts at a jump scare, I mean, once you know nobody can hurt any of the protagonists - apart from a girl too dumb to actually act on the amount of exposition she gives out ("Hm! Seems the guy possesses family members and kills them all. Dad's started acting violent. Better ask a dead girl to answer me so I can tell her what's been going on, and go back to playing my clarinet.") and we therefore DO NOT CARE ABOUT - it becomes a huge exercise in waiting for something else of interest to happen.

And the ending - where we're robbed of any satisfaction in watching vengeance or retribution - just makes it even the more frustrating. The giant reveal of the picture is when Killer Ghost/Present Dad hits the lights on the car and we ssee ONTARIO take up most of the screen. Makes you think they were going for "Aha! We can make movies just as good as you guys eh" but ended up being more like "THIS EXPLAINS WHY YOU'VE BEEN BORED FOR THE LAST FOUR HOURS."

Is it worth a look? Not really. Honestly. Between how sickeningly nice and Minnesota-bland their family life is to the complete lack of denouement in the ending, plus the complete lack of any logic to it (he's in charge! sort of. He collects souls, but he's no more powerful than God. But God doesn't punish evil until they make the recipient feel guilty. And you cannot move on until everyone in your party realizes you're ghosts, so you'd better hope you don't die in the company of someone with an IQ of discarded wallpaper) makes this movie a giant crashing boring waste of time. PLEASE AVOID.

 

Haunt"er (?), n.

One who, or that which, haunts.

 

© Webster 1913.

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