Director: Sonja O’Hara
Cast: Stephen Lang, Shane West, Chelsea Gilligan, Sarah Hay, Bruce Dern, Mike Stern
Running time: 105 mins

Directed by Sonja O’Hara and written by producer Mike Stern, this intriguing horror plays some entertaining games with genre expectations and pulls off a handful of decent twists in the process. It’ll also make you think twice the next time you’re considering a fancy Air B’n’B rental.

After a grisly prologue involving a mysterious figure (Stephen Lang) who murders the husband of a young woman (Sarah Hay) in the 1960s, the action moves to the present day, in post-pandemic America, where architect Tom Levin (Shane West) and his medical professional wife Alice (Chelsea Gilligan) move into a rented mid-century home. With Alice snowed under at her new hospital job, Tom is left to explore the house, which he discovers was built and owned by his idol, legendary occultist and architect Frederick Banner (Lang).

However, that’s just the beginning of the house’s secrets, as Tom soon encounters Marie (Hay), a sexy ghost, with whom he forms a strong attachment. Marie warns Tom that Banner’s spirit also still haunts the house, and that he and his wife are in danger from the occult architect’s dark plan to return to the land of the living.

The key twist here is that ghosts are able to take possession of unconscious minds and bodies, which leads to a wildly unpredictable final act. That concept also paves the way for the film’s best shock moment, in a cleverly structured reveal.

The script has fun blending various horror genres, making this simultaneously a home invasion thriller, a ghost story, a possession horror, a black magic supernatural chiller and a murder mystery, with some body-swap shenanigans thrown in for good measure. It’s also laced with some none too subtle satirical commentary – Banner is known as “The Orange King” because of his familiar-looking complexion and the film undercuts the conservative desire (epitomised by the slogan ‘Make America Great Again’) to return to the “less complicated” 1950s and ’60s, i.e. before the Civil Rights Movement and Women’s Liberation.

The performances are pretty decent. Lang has a long history of playing creepy characters and he’s on good form here, while West makes a solid lead, investing his character with an interesting degree of vulnerability. Similarly, Hay brings a palpable sadness and melancholy to Marie, which combines well with her striking 1950s hair and make-up.

In addition, there’s strong support from Gilligan (though her character is relatively underused), and director O’Hara and writer-producer Stern both give themselves fun cameos – O’Hara as Alice’s amusingly spiky work buddy and Stern in a more central and effective role as Eldridge Banner, the grown-up son of Lang’s character. Veteran actor Bruce Dern – always a welcome presence – also pops up for some reason, in a flashback scene where he’s talking to Banner.

In fairness, the film isn’t entirely without flaws – it takes a while to get going and various characters could do with a little more fleshing out – but the various twists and turns are entertaining in a you-won’t-see-that-coming sort of way and there’s enough going on here to make this worth your while.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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Author

  • Matthew Turner

    A lifelong film fanatic, Matthew Turner (FilmFan1971) is a London-based critic and author, as well as the co-host of Fatal Attractions, a podcast on erotic thrillers. His favourite film is Vertigo and he hasn't missed an episode of EastEnders since 1998.