- 18 Jun 19
Directed by Tate Taylor. Written by Scott Landes. Starring Octavia Spencer, Juliette Lewis, Diana Silvers, Luke Evans, McKaley Miller, Missi Pyle. In cinemas now.
The Help director Tate Taylor directs long-time friend Octavia Spencer in this horror-thriller, with Spencer playing Sue-Anne, a lonely veterinary assistant who befriends a group of high-schoolers after they ask her to buy them booze. Sue-Anne offers up her basement as a den, and it rapidly becomes the town’s underage party spot. But as Sue-Anne’s behaviour becomes more obsessive and her nefarious motivations become clearer, the party is soon over for everyone.
Hot on the heels of Lupita Nyong’o’s stellar performance in Jordan Peele’s Us, having another Black woman play the lead – and villain – in a horror movie is a great step for the historically limited genre. Seeing Spencer use and subvert her usual sweet-as-pie persona to portray a character who turns outrageously nasty is also fun, and the specifics of Sue-Anne’s backstory is nicely teased out through flashbacks.
One interesting theme that (perhaps unintentionally) emerges is that the girls’ intuit that Ma is dangerous, but their experiences and beliefs are ignored and undermined by the boys. Peer pressure plays a large role in the narrative, but the film’s ultimate message about gendered trauma is deeply problematic, and a single reference to race is ham-fisted.
This is TV writer Scott Landes’ first feature screenplay, and the gaps in tension, logic and development reveal his lack of experience. Locals of a tiny town haven’t seen each other in 20 years. People awkwardly address each other by their full names. Phone-addicted teenagers never think of calling the police or each other when in danger. Sue-Anne is apparently omnipresent, and invincible. It all adds up to a story lacking any internal logic, making the unexpectedly gruesome final act feel especially ludicrous.