Tag Archives: psychological thriller



Format: Cinema

Seen at TIFF 2015

Director: Osgood ‘Oz’ Perkins

Writer: Osgood ‘Oz’ Perkins

Cast: Emma Roberts, Kiernan Shipka, Lucy Boynton, James Remar, Lauren Holly

USA, Canada 2015

93 mins

*** out of *****

The prolific character actor Oz Perkins makes his promising directorial debut with this creepy, atmospheric and surprisingly affecting blend of psychological thriller and outright horror. Most importantly, February not only signals the arrival of a formidable filmmaking talent, but is a picture that takes its rightful place within an important pedigree of scarefests, which harkens back to the golden age of RKO’s horror unit in the 40s.

The childhood fear of dark corners, in addition to feelings of both loneliness and abandonment, always seem to make for the happiest of bedfellows in genre cinema – happy for viewers, however, not so much for the protagonists of said films. For me, the grandfather of all such work is Val Lewton’s alternately chilling and deeply moving 1944 classic The Curse of the Cat People (directed by Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise, written by the indomitable DeWitt Bodeen). That highly influential RKO masterpiece saw the ghost of Irena (Simone Simon) return from the Jacques Tourneur-directed and Bodeen-scribed Cat People (1943) to act as a spiritual guide, playmate and protector for Amy (Ann Carter), the daughter of Irena’s former lover. Utilizing an ‘imaginary’ playmate and nods to Charles Dickens’s “Great Expectations” allowed for a horror film that worked on both visceral and emotionally dramatic levels.

February treads similar territory in a wholly contemporary context. Following the mysterious journey of Joan (Emma Roberts), a furtive, seemingly eidolic, yet determined young lady who makes her way across a New England landscape of blood, ice and snow, we become all-too aware that her destination is a place of gothic bumps in the night and a genuinely malevolent force. The place in question is an old, isolated, high-end girls’ boarding school, which has been closed for its winter break and appears to house only Kat (Kiernan Shipka) and Rose (Lucy Boynton), two young ladies who are stranded there when their respective parents do not arrive to pick them up.

A storm appears to be brewing – not simply of the meteorological kind, but of the supernatural kind as well. At first Rose, the eldest, bitterly rejects being placed in the role of protector and ignores Kat. Gradually Rose’s protective instinct kicks in as the long, dark night wears on. Alas, she finds herself desperately powerless as a truly insidious force overcomes Kat and increases in ferocity. Occasionally cross-cutting with Joan, it seems that the evil in this dark, old school is ever-swelling as she nears her ultimate destination.

A convergence is clearly in the cards and it’s not rocket science to guess that it might not at all be pretty. Where things do go a bit awry on my own disappoint-o-meter is that the fine combination of visceral and cerebral chills were of the ‘I hope things don’t go here’ variety during the denouement. A fine screenplay buoys so much of the film’s evocative directorial style, plus the genuinely terrific performances, but once again, I find myself up against a wrap-up I’d expect from a much lesser work.

I doubt this will bother most, but as a psychopath who sees way too many movies, it troubled me to no end. That said, on my baser levels of critical assessment, the movie offers three babes, a creepy old house and a malevolent possession all within a sumptuously crafted indie feature, so what the hell am I complaining about?

Greg Klymkiw

This review is part of our 2015 TIFF coverage.



Format: Cinema

Release date: 13 February 2015

Distributor: Metrodome

Director: James Ward Byrkit

Writer: James Ward Byrkit

Cast: Emily Foxler, Maury Sterling, Nicholas Brendon, Lorene Scafaria, Elizabeth Gracen

USA 2013

89 mins

Coherence begins like any number of US indie flicks: a group of affluent young professionals gather for a dinner party. The faux-improv dialogue and shaky camerawork are as you’d expect. The performances are completely convincing. But there are references to a comet passing overhead and the strange things that can happen as a result – a not too convincing pretext for a sci-fi twist.

However, when the twist comes, it bounces off the naturalistic style in a way that’s very entertaining. A power cut blacks out the neighbourhood except for one house up the hill. A couple of the guests go to investigate, and return with a crazy story: the house with lights is the same house, and the same people are inside, eating their dinner. A box has been retrieved, which contains numbered photographs of everyone at the party. And a table tennis paddle.

If you’re susceptible to this kind of plot hook, you are now hooked and must keep watching (the way you watched Lost) in hopes of a satisfactory explanation. A dramatically – not scientifically – satisfactory answer does actually come together with a snowballing set of peculiar consequences to what is apparently a breakdown in the barriers that normally keep us from mingling with the people in the universe next door, and the one next to that, and the one next to that…

As the situation develops into increasing craziness, perfectly logically given its loopy premise, relationships break down along with reality, and a mild form of Lynchian terror is unleashed. It’s also rather funny. ‘There are a million universes out there and I slept with your wife in all of them!’ I found it all rather irresistible. The one wrong step seemed to me the introduction of violence, the breakdown of civilisation, which misses the point of the particular anxiety the story concept trades on, which has to do with doppelgangers and being unable to trust your senses, and what is sometimes called jamais vu – ’I have never been here before,’ said as you walk into your own home and meet your loved ones without any sense of familiarity.

This review is part of our 2014 EIFF coverage. Coherence is released on DVD in the UK on 16 February 2015 by Metrodome.

David Cairns

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Format: Dual Format (DVD + Blu-ray)

Release date: 28 April 2014

Distributor: Arrow Video

Director: Brian De Palma

Writers: Brian De Palma, Louisa Rose

Cast: Margot Kidder, Jennifer Salt, Charles Durning

USA 1973

93 mins

My colleagues, they can make believe that Dominique is truly disturbed; I think that they will find that Danielle, who is so sweet, so responsive, so normal as opposed to her sister, can only be so because of her sister.

Present day, Staten Island, and actress Danielle Breton (Margot Kidder) has been separated from her twin, Dominique Blanchion, for some years. She meets Phillip Woode (Lisle Wilson) a kind man who seems like he’d take care of Danielle; but when her spooky ex-husband shows up on their date, it becomes clear that she has a ‘past’. When sinister events unfold, columnist Grace Collier (Jennifer Salt) sees this as her big opportunity to write the story that will finally help her to bust through the glass ceiling, and starts her own investigation into Danielle’s life.

Central to De Palma’s films is the idea that the normal and the psychotic are symbiotic: they feed from each other, and one cannot exist without the other. It makes sense therefore that he would have been drawn to making a psychological thriller based on conjoined twins; Sisters (1973) is an early incarnation of the syrupy twisted with grotesque violence. What starts as a quasi-realist thriller takes a turn simply with the appearance of a huge birthday cake to celebrate the twins’ birthday; its pink frosting flowers, the twinkling candlelight, Bernard Herrmann’s score jangling in the background, and the enormous carving knife that has been placed next to it all bode ill, yet somehow they seem to be entirely appropriate. In Carrie (1976), three years later, De Palma would combine the saccharine normality of American high school pomp with pig’s blood and telekinetic delirium, and how blissful is that mix.

Sisters is like a fairy tale that evolves into a slasher thriller, with women doing some of the thinking – at last. De Palma is good at writing material where female characters are allowed to talk to each other, and about women. Grace Collier has scenes where she speaks about her frustrations with not being taken seriously; this happens at work, and when she confronts the police as a witness to a brutal crime, their levity is clearly based on her gender. She even gets to talk directly to Danielle Breton about something other than men or children, although Danielle’s capacity for murder is not much of an upgrade. Later, in a sense, Grace metaphorically changes places with Dominique, the disturbed twin. Grace is a character with guts and intelligence, but it’s as if these qualities can be easily made equivocal with the monstrous. Only heavy-handed hypnosis can manipulate her strong mind, and she is partly silenced for her agency and will. De Palma creates aberrant women, where psychosis merges with normality, even if the narratives shut them down at the end of the films. But consider Carrie’s hand thrusting out of the soil of her newly dug grave – this lasting image serves as a reminder that the monsters are not going to go away.

It’s good to see this cult classic re-released, and to remember it as one of the films that paved the way for other great films about twins, including Kim Jee-woon’s Tale of Two Sisters (2003).

Nicola Woodham