(2022) Horror (VMI Worldwide) Booboo Stewart, Scarlett Sperduto, Nils Allen Stewart, Nancy Harding, Grant Morningstar, Bryson JonSteele, Devin Keaton, Josh Bradshaw, Connor McKinley Griffin, Michael Holub, Yash Gajera, Brandon Leonard, Ethan Wieland, Steve Hausler, Kim Smith, Paula Macfarlane Van Kuren, Alexis Curtiss, Dante Yatel Nayvaez, Beau Elliott, Daryl Anisfeld. Directed by Robert Rippberger
First dates can be magical things. They can also be terrifying. Often they end up being completely forgettable. How many times have we gone on first dates, only to be checking our watches…excuse me, smart phones… or fidgeting in place as we realize that it was an enormous mistake to ask this person out in the first place (or say yes when asked). Sometimes, however, there is a chemistry that just pops up without any provocation or intention and it becomes an event you never forget for as long as you live, however long that may be.
Max (B. Stewart) has been out of the dating game for a while. He had been taking care of his seriously ill mom, until the grind and mental fatigue finally overwhelmed him. He feels tremendous guilt for having walked away for caring for his mom, but here is a chance to get into a healthier relationship.
And at first glance, it seems like Avery (Sperduto) is tonic for the troops. The two met on a dating app and decided to take a shot and meet in person. Not only is she pretty, but she seems to be quite taken with Max. At first, both are awkward, particularly the chronically shy Max as the conversation sputters, reloads, stops, and shifts gears. The two walk slowly through their small town, making small talk as they take their time before arriving at their movie. Except that the movie has been canceled due to extenuating circumstances. Bummer.
After a brief stop at a bar where their mutual attraction seemed to take off into overdrive, Avery suggests visiting a reputedly haunted house on the edge of town. Max quickly agrees. Once there, the rotting and crumbling house seems to be the perfect place for a malevolent ghost and one lives there – Rotcreep (N.A. Stewart). Avery tells Max that Rotcreep has agreed to remain tied to the house so long as sacrifices are made, otherwise he would escape and rain terror on an unsuspecting world. And, as it turns out, nothing is at all what Max thought it was.
The first half of the movie is a stroll through town, moving at the kind of pace you would expect from a stroll. The strained small talk, the awkward conversation – all ring true, but Rippberger made the decision to film his movie in a single continuous shot, which feels unnecessary and gimmicky here. Note to aspiring filmmakers; if something like that doesn’t add anything to the narrative other than being an exercise in self-indulgence, then you don’t need it. It becomes distracting and irritating to the viewer. Just some friendly advice.
Booboo Stewart is perfectly cast as the shy, awkward Max who has tremendous burdens, but at heart is a kind young man. He has pretty good chemistry with Sperduto, which is necessary to carry the first half of the film. Unfortunately, that part of the film is going to be virtually excruciating for those who expect a roller coaster haunted house film, which is what the trailer is selling.
There are a lot of cinematographic twists and turns as cinematographer Diego Cordero spins the camera, flips it upside down in an effort to create a literal visual coaster effect; however, be warned that such effects can be vertigo-inducing and wear out their welcome after a couple of turns.
There are some pretty good ideas here, but the backstory of Rotcreep is confusing and contradictory; what is explained to be always fatal turns out to be survivable after all, and he doesn’t appear until comparatively late in the film (they don’t even get into the house until 45 minutes in). The production design is spooky and really well done, considering the miniscule budget. I would have liked to have seen a little less small talk and a little more development of the haunting set-up, but to be truthful, this isn’t bad so much as it makes a few missteps.
REASONS TO SEE: A good college try from both Stewart and Sperduto.
REASONS TO AVOID: Takes WAY too long to get going.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, violence, sensuality, disturbing images and terror.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Loosely inspired by the Ursula K. LeGuin short story “Those Who Walk Away from Omelas.” Avery even mentions early on that she is writing a paper on that very story during their stroll around town.
]BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/16/22: Rotten Tomatoes: 43% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Autumn Road
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Marry Me