Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
Australia/USA, 2020. AGBO, Carver Films, Film Victoria, Nine Stories Productions, Screen Australia. Screenplay by Natalie Erika James, Christian White. Cinematography by Charlie Sarroff. Produced by Jake Gyllenhaal, Riva Marker, Anna McLeish, Sarah Shaw. Music by Brian Reitzell. Production Design by Steven Jones-Evans. Costume Design by Louise McCarthy. Film Editing by Denise Haratzis, Sean Lahiff. Gotham Awards 2020.
Emily Mortimer receives a disturbing phone call from her mother’s neighbour, she hasn’t been seen in a few days and is an elderly woman (played by Robyn Nevin) who lives on her own in a remote country house outside of Melbourne. Mortimer heads out to the house with her daughter (Bella Heathcote) and they find an empty house with no sign of her anywhere. A search party combs the woods surrounding the property while the two younger women hold the fort, cleaning and watching the place without being able to what to do; then without warning, the old woman returns and offers no explanation for her absence, though her behaviour is odd and her personality altered. Her daughter and granddaughter stay with her to settle her in and consider the possibility that she needs more serious care, but they also begin to suspect that something more sinister is happening, there’s a presence in the house that Mortimer comes to believe is a malevolent force that has taken her mother over. Much like The Babadook personified grief as an invading phantom upon a family, Natalie Erika James’s moody horror film treats the ravages of aging and dementia as a supernatural villain that is experienced by unsuspecting and unprepared innocents. As things become more dire and less logical, Mortimer is increasingly less able to process her mother’s fragility, which drives her apart from her daughter when they disagree on how serious their situation is. James takes you directly into Nevin’s situation in a third-act climax that sees Heathcote dive deep into a wonderfully terrifying, almost dreamlike sequence of claustrophobic disorientation before a poignant and affecting conclusion that, while too symbolic to allow the film to remain comfortably in your traditional notion of a horror film, certainly sends the message home.