*. Good stuff! And a real surprise. My expectations were low, and very wide of the mark. From the DVD box cover and blurb on the back I was anticipating something along the lines of The Hills Have Eyes. A dead teenager movie (the kids are all drunk and stoned and having sex) where the monster of the week collects heads and goes bowling with them.
*. It’s not like that at all. Instead it’s a restrained and for the most part very effective low-budget thriller that has a bunch of kids vacationing in the Joshua Tree National Park, where they awaken some kind of Native American spirit (called a Hisji) by way of a campfire reading from an Internet site (making the Hisji an odd mix of old and new).
*. That set-up is nothing special, but the idea here is quite interesting. The Hisji is a shapeshifter, and can take the form of any of the friends. This reminded me a lot of It Follows, and it’s an idea that works here almost as well. It also recalls The Thing, and it’s no surprise co-writer and director Elle Callahan says The Thing and It Follows were inspirations (she also mentions The Witch, but I didn’t see any connection there at all).
*. So there’s no gore (indeed we don’t see anyone being killed, or even any bodies) but just a general sense of creepiness as we’re left to wonder who is real and who may be a deadly doppelgänger. Callahan, whose feature debut I believe this was, also shows real promise in her creation of suspense. Not much in the effects department, no jump scares, but a nice evocation of low-burning dread through lighting, camera movement, and a creative use of sound.
*. A somewhat fresh and interesting idea, capably rendered. I can’t say that about many new horror flicks. But I do think it has problems. The kids never clue in as a group to what is going on, so paranoia never gets developed like it does in The Thing and It Follows. Also the idea that the Hisji only kills people by having them commit suicide struck me as weak. The movie needed something like the human pretzel shot at the beginning of It Follows to shock the audience and let them know what’s at stake. Here, the sight at the end of the possessed kids drinking bleach and wrapping their heads in plastic is unintentionally comic. And why would Evan be lured by the Hisji/Zoe telling him that he could be with all the others if he killed himself? He hardly knows those guys!
*. So I thought Callahan could have done more with the premise, but it’s still a good little movie. Not a horror classic or game-changer, but definitely worth a look.