I really liked this, but its a very slow burn, and one of those films where everything has inevitably been pre-spoilt in its trailer (it doesn't help that its most strikingly monstrous image is its key selling point! You can't have an image like that and not expect it to be used in the marketing, or on the cover!). Its the kind of film where I could understand people being bored for the majority of its mid-section of people wandering around the landscape calling out for long dead friends (only to be met with the cry of loons in response), but if you enjoy scenes of characters exploring sandy beaches, lush jungles, dilapidated buildings and so on, this is almost the perfect film!
I can see what is meant by calling this a kind of 'arthouse slasher'. Its got all of the tropes of the slasher film - a group of friends go to an isolated house, have sex, get stalked and killed off one by one - but its got a real off-kilter sense of otherworldliness about it throughout in the focus on the main character who may or may not be dreaming, but who at the very least has premonitions about everything about to happen. Even of the final monstrous appearance in the opening dream sequence, which neatly bookends the less fantastical mid-section, as the cycle ends and the ambiguous dream-world(?) collapses into blunt terror. Very Lynchian! While watching I ended up thinking about lots of disparate films that this could positively be compared to: the dreamy, perpetually startled main character is a bit like the main character of Eleanor in the 1963 version of The Haunting (and similarly the characters both seem to prefer exploring their environment than being with other people); the whole island setting and relationships falling apart under the seeming influence of one character's mental trauma is a bit like Through A Glass Darkly (though one in which the molesting spider God at the end is explicitly visualised); and the whole sequence of wandering the, beautifully windswept and rugged, island after the first character disappears without trace is very L'Avventura-esque!
But I also don't want to push that aspect too
much, as this is still very much a slasher film too, defined by its murder sequences. Just as fruitful a comparison could be made to that recent 2013 Evil Dead remake - this feels tonally very much like that early section of a group of people coming together to 'help' a troubled member of their group get through their issues, without realising that its going to overwhelm all of them too. And in its final moment it pulls out a twist very much like
Triangle's, where eveything is reset. But reset decades back to the traumatic childhood event as recounted in the story earlier in the film, of Kay being presented with the cat as a present that she would then go on to kill by locking into a freezer. There's the horror there of being about to go through the entire cycle all over again, but I also like that maybe there's the potential (as in Triangle) of a karmic get-out clause too - that maybe by at one time not killing the Black Cat, the entire cycle of guilt could be brought to an end. Maybe.
Its all beautifully (though maybe frustratingly for many) ambiguous and open ended in its answers to the mystery. Is the monster really killing people, or is that just a visualisation for Kay, and Kay is the one murdering her brother and sister-in-law whenever she falls asleep? (It does make me think a great premise for a horror film would be a Box-like one that people have only ever died when someone, somewhere goes to sleep! By recharging your batteries, has every single person in the world has been draining the life essence of someone else!) Or could it have simply been the light aircraft pilot/creepy handman (in the tradition of Friday the 13th's doom proclaiming character) all along?
There's an amazing moment where Brooke in her murder scene, after having seen the pitchfork appearing out of the shadows with just a stunned reaction, suddenly starts screaming in abject terror. Has she seen the monster that Kay, and the audience, will see at the end of the film? Or is it the reaction of seeing someone she knows approaching her with homicidal madness in their eyes? Which is the more terrifying? We'll never know, and its probably right that we don't.
I love that ending too. The monster is absolutely fantastic and a horrific punchline, but I also particularly like the build up to that, where after shooting the handyman with the flare gun and escaping upstairs whilst his body and the house catches fire, as Kay struggles with the front door the red glow from the flames downstairs lights up the stairwell as if its the portal down to Hell itself! It makes the desperation to escape not just literal but beautifully metaphorical too, as Kay doesn't want to be pulled down into the flames. Then she opens the front door to be confronted literally by a monstrous demon (an expression of her repressed homicidal side made flesh) that traps her inside that inferno.
Like Eleanor in The Haunting (or Carnival of Souls, or later on the family in Lucio Fulci's The House By The Cemetery), you can never leave, just join the other ghosts as your past catches up to you and both aspects of the self merge together in a blunt full stop.
Its a fantastic film about guilt and mental breakdown, and the sense of powerlessness those feelings can bring. It also looks beautiful with its storm lashed landscapes and well composed imagery. It is why that extremely drawn out mid-section which I can understand others perhaps finding boring really works for me - its a lot of wandering around, but the imagery is so beautiful that I could have watched more of it! (A bit Carnival of Souls-like, though a little less focused and more meandering) I also like the way that after the first disappearance Kay sort of comes to terms with her boyfriend being dead while her brother and his girl start to get more concerned as night falls, then the next day, then the next without him turning up. There's a sense of a longeur there that makes the disappearance without a quick resolution a bit more disturbing than something like the logistical nightmare of a Friday the 13th film where a dozen teenagers have to all be murdered within the timeframe of a single night. That's also what creates an Antonioni-like sense of troubling absence to that section of the film too. Even that light aircraft journey beyond the clouds to the island could be a bit Antonioni-like, though that might be pushing it! It also helps that the characters here are in their 30s or 40s rather than teenagers.
As well as beautiful shots of the sea and the landscape, there are also some tremendously impressive mirror shots throughout the film. For example the early one of the brother and his girl framed between two mirrors on either wall of their bathroom, facing away from each other in the room but carrying out a conversation through their mirrored reflections. All of that mirror imagery ties in well with Kay's troubled mental state (thankfully its relatively understated too, never someone seeing themselves as a demon in a mirror or anything like that, more that someone is being confronted by an image of themselves and looking right through it, or past it) and the sense that it is her guilty side, her unexpressed dream state that is where this scenario is playing out in.
Its a really nice little self-enclosed jewel of a film. I also liked that the main theme of the film seems very similar to one of the tracks of the Alien score!