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As I was watching this much-hyped horror thriller for the first two thirds, I truly felt I might be witnessing this generation find it’s Halloween. It’s only in it’s final act when writer/director David Robert Mitchell loses his grip a bit and his chiller comes to an abrupt end, that the film falls short.

The story opens with a young girl (Bailey Spry) fleeing her own house in terror and making her way to a deserted beach where she meets a gruesome fate. We then cut to pretty Detroit teen Jay (Maika Monroe) who is going out on a date with a handsome young man named Hugh (Jake Weary). The date takes an odd turn but, Jay sees him again and this time has sex with him in his car. Hugh then abducts Jay and proceeds to tell her that he has passed something on to her and it is now coming to kill her. She, in turn, must now pass it on to someone else, by way of intercourse, or die…and if she dies, it will turn it’s attention back to Hugh. This entity can look like anyone it wants, can only be seen by those marked and will stalk her until it gets her…unless she passes this ‘curse’ on to another. He gives her a glimpse of her pursuer, in the guise of a naked woman, but, before it gets too close, he escapes with her and takes her home, leaving her to her fate. Now Jay is in constant pursuit by this being and there is nowhere she is safe and few who believe her. Can she save herself by putting someone else in harm’s way? Or can she and her friends find a way to stop it…if, indeed, it can be stopped.

David Robert Mitchell knows how to build suspense and scares here. That, combined with his shot framing and the film’s pulse-pounding electronic score by Disasterpeace, evokes John Carpenter and his classic chiller very often. Mitchell, knows how to use shadows and lighting to create tension along with a strong atmosphere and mood of constant dread and can build some pretty scary scenes right out in broad daylight, too. With the added skill of cinematographer Mike Gioulakis, this flick also looks great, as well as, conveys a constant feeling that something isn’t right. Also like Carpenter’s masterpiece, the villain here is ambiguous and stays that way and, like Michael Myers, is relentless in it’s quest to kill Jay. There is almost non-stop tension and chills during this pursuit and some flat-out scary sequences. Whether you look at it as a metaphor for the fear of STDs or simply as a horror flick, the first two thirds of this movie live up to the hype. Unfortunately, though, the film falls short of instant classic status as it loses it’s way a bit in the last act. Mitchell doesn’t really seem to know how to wrap this story up, so, we get an intense pool-set confrontation, that ultimately goes nowhere and then an abrupt ending soon after. Granted, Carpenter’s ending was a bit ambiguous, too, but, still was a satisfying conclusion that left us considerably spooked as the credits rolled. Here it’s more of a head scratcher, which leaves one asking “That’s it?” It’s too bad, as with a third act equal to what came before it, this might truly have been this generation’s Halloween. It’s that scary at times. With the last act weakness aside, there is still a lot to like about this flick and ultimately I did really enjoy it. There are enough scares and tension to satisfy and even if the film lost it’s grip when it should have tightened it, you still get more than your money’s worth overall. I also liked how Mitchell used the suburban Detroit locations to give the film a fresh look and his young cast all did a good job, especially lead Maika Monroe (The Guest).

Between this and The Guest, I can say Maika Monroe is a star in the making. She gives us a vivacious and real young women who is plunged into a world that is terrifying and unsafe no matter where she turns. She is strong to a degree but, not having the tools to fight back, is slowly breaking her down. She also struggles with the notion that simply having sex with someone else can possibly save her but, can she do that to someone…and if she does and they die, she’s back to being it’s target and an innocent is dead. Monroe conveys it all very well. The rest of the cast are also strong. Keir Gilchrist is sympathetic as Paul, a friend who has been crushing on Jay for years but, she doesn’t see him that way. Lili Sepe is good as her strong-willed and sometimes wiser little sister Kelly. Daniel Zovatto is solid as Greg, a neighbor who has a past with Jay and is willing to help despite his disbelief. Rounding out is Olivia Luccardi as their perky friend Yara, who has the least to do but, does it well. The entity itself is never played by the same person twice, but, Mitchell always evokes a strong threat and sense of fear from whomever is playing it.

Overall, I highly recommend this horror. It has a bit of a fresh look and feel, despite heavily evoking John Carpenter’s classic of stalked teens and provides some downright scary sequences, especially in it’s first two thirds. It does wander off the path a bit in the last act…though certainly not nearly enough to sink it…and doesn’t quite wrap up in the completely satisfying way it needs to. Flaws aside, though, this is still a very effective and scary horror. So, while it falls a bit short of being the Halloween for a new generation, it’s still a damn scary as hell horror flick and shows big things ahead for director David Robert Mitchell and star Maika Monroe.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 haunted heroines.

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