#Horror (2015)

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Written & Directed by: Tara Subkoff

Setting: Connecticut

Regular readers — all two or three of you — know that we’ve been a homeschooling family for a long time — 13 years to be exact.

No parenting path is perfect. Some days are better than others, and when the kids were younger I had days when I gloried in our unschooled lifestyles and moments when I wanted to chase down the school bus, as it turned the corner in front of my house, so I could shove my kids on board. 🙂

Even on my worst parenting days — when I was questioning Every. Single. Freaking. Choice I’d Ever Made — I reminded myself of one important thing. I’d spared my kids from the conventional middle school experience — I’d spared them from seventh grade.

I have tremendous respect for middle school teachers, and the preteen kids of many of my friends are thriving in public school. But the whole concept of middle school has always seemed vaguely unnatural to me. So many raging hormones compressed into one building. Kids can go a bit Lord of Flies. Then again, I’ve always said that if William Golding had written a book about a group of girls stranded on an island, no one would have shoved a pig’s head on a stake or turned homicidal. They would’ve verbally tormented each other until somebody threw herself from a cliff into the ocean. I think I’d rather take my chances with the homicidal hunters.

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#Horror focuses on six twelve-year-old girls convening for a sleepover at the home of Sofia (Bridget McGarry), whose father is an art collector. The house is opulent yet oddly cold and institutional, with prized works of art that include a Warholesque picture of Marilyn Monroe with her face covered by a pulsing fried egg. Her mother (the gorgeous Chloë Sevigny) leaves them to their own devices, playing dress up and taking selfies. We see an unnervingly realistic portrayal of friendships among adolescent girls, moments of emotional intimacy strewn among snarky attempts to one-up each other and outright emotional abuse. Eventually the gathering degenerates into outright craziness.

#Horror has many elements of a good film. The dynamics among the girls seem raw and believable, and it features strong performances. A stand-out was the lonely, emotionally unstable Cat (Haley Murphy), fluctuating between girlish vulnerability and savage rage against her peers. This film is also intriguingly atmospheric with some gorgeous cinematography and interesting set pieces.

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However, the movie lacks a cohesive story. Its opening scene clearly marks it as a slasher flick. It segues to the toxic relationship among the girls, for whom bitchiness and cyberbullying has become the norm. This works for a while. The adolescent gathering provides slow-burn tension, and viewers wait for the events in the opening scene to be revealed.

Then it steps back into Breakfast Club territory, with the girls sharing their sadness and sense of alienation from their parents. Next a character comes from stage left and has gone bat shit crazy. References are made to events of last year, concerning the girls, which would presumably shed light on the story, but they’re never revealed. Then the movie plunges abruptly into full-on slasher-film mode.

It wraps up with a solution to the mystery of who perpetrated the killings that doesn’t seem to make sense and a message about the alienating role of technology in our lives — a theme that has already been conveyed throughout the movie — delivered with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the head. What just happened here? I felt like I’d just watched an amalgam of horror movie elements — including creepy masks, interesting imagery, some shaky cam footage, and a psycho stalking teen girls — without a clear plot to provide a framework for it all.

Although this film didn’t work for me — even on the “so bad it’s awesome” level — I admire many aspects of the movie. The girls’ performances reveal strong direction, some of the cinematography and set pieces were almost mesmerizing, and parts of the story, when examined on their own, worked. I wish it had been more cohesive and conveyed its themes more subtly. However, fragments of this movie will stick with me, and I definitely want to see more work from this director

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