Or Don’t, I Understand
Main Cast: Bella Thorne, Chandler Riggs
Director: Sean Carter
Do I HAVE to? Because I felt like I’ve seen this movie before. Maybe not this exact movie but … well, pretty close. Honestly, it’s no wonder Joseph Dembner and Sean Carter’s 2014 movie Keep Watching wasn’t released until 2017.
This is Home Invasion Horror 101.
The Mitchell’s, Carl (Ioan Gruffud, The Fantastic Four) and his new wife Nicole (Natalie Martinez and I ain’t mad at that, “Under the Dome”), along with Carl’s children, Jamie (Bella Thorne, Amityville: The Awakening) and DJ (Chandler Riggs, “The Walking Dead”), have just returned home from a 10 day vacation. Tensions are high because Jamie has been having trouble dealing with the death of her mother 6 years previously, and she’s NOT happy that her father’s new wife is so much younger than he is. But family backstory aside, Bella Thorne is basically playing the exact same moody character she played in the godawful Amityville: The Awakening (another long-delayed release. Coincidentally THIS movie was given a limited release on Oct. 31, 2017, while the Amityville debacle was released 2 days before).
Before bed that night, Carl’s younger brother Matt (Leigh Whannell, Saw) shows up and makes absolutely no difference in the outcome of the movie whatsoever. And that’s a shame, because I really like Leigh Wannell and hoped he would play a bigger role.
So anyway, late that night, the family is woken up by loud metallic banging coming from downstairs. They go to see what’s what and Carl is murdered in the living room.
The rest of the family freaks out and are shown the message KILL OR BE KILLED written in what appears to be blood.
Then they start to find various weapons stashed about the house. And that metallic banging downstairs? That was the perpetrators attaching metal grates to the doors and windows on the first floor. And before the Mitchells think of going out one of the second story windows, there are drones flying around outside the house. Oh, and that’s when they see Matt, dead in the back yard.
Nicole, Jamie, and DJ hide out in the basement, where they can lock the door, but these people, whoever they are, are running a TIGHT ship. There are cameras and weapons stashed down here, too.
Oh, right, I forgot to mention the cameras.
So, while the Mitchells were away on vacation, some people broke into their house and attached cameras to frigging EVERY THING!!!
Each room seems to have at least 10 different angles, and I guess I can overlook the fact that that’s just a bit of overkill, but at one point Jamie is in the basement, lying under a bench or something while one of the killers is on top of it, trying to stab her, and there’s a camera on the underside of the bench, on a motorized track so it be slide back and forth. Almost as if they’d PLANNED Jamie, or someone, taking refuge under that bench at some point during the night.
It was just dumb.
So anyway, they’re in the basement when they hear a police car pull up and a voice says the house is about to be searched. The Mitchells scream for joy, but soon discover there’s no police car; the sounds they heard were being fed to them through a speaker in the ceiling. Of the basement. Again, almost as if the killers KNEW they would go down to the basement and wanted to twist the proverbial knife just a bit with a false hope of rescue.
Alright, that’s enough of this ridiculous plot. Lemme get a little bit into the why and wherefore of this thing.
See, there’s a big hullabaloo going on in the news because whole families are being murdered and the entire thing is being streamed “live” over the internet. Police suspect a time delay, but still, what people are watching on the internet is the full encounter of these home invasions and subsequent murders.
And the news report upfront interviews a few people who say they know how terrible it is but they just couldn’t stop, they had to, what? Say it with me: KEEP WATCHING!
And that’s what’s up with all the cameras and the whole ordeal. The Mitchells are next on the Price is Right and their deaths are being streamed to millions, billions of people all over the world.
Now, to me, this was both a pro and a con for this movie. On the one hand, it IS a new element to the home invasion genre, and something that made me curious to see how it all turned out. On the other hand … yeah, okay, we get it, people are terrible, mindless sheep and they’ll watch anything, no matter how horrible it is, if you put it on the internet. We suck, I get it. I didn’t need another bland slasher movie to remind me.
And that’s coming from someone who LOVES slasher movies.
Writer Dembner and director Carter are trying to tell a dark and exciting story, but the execution left so much to be desired. First off, the cameras kept glitching and it not only had the opposite effect of giving authenticity to the streaming nature of the film, it was just annoying.
Plus, you know how in horror movies, characters do really stupid stuff. This one has them all beat. In one scene Nicole finds a basement window they didn’t see, one hidden in bushes, so it’s not covered by the metal grate. So she opens it and slips out and instead of taking the kids with her, tells them Stay put, they can’t get into the basement, I’ll go get help.
Go get help? Bitch, you better help me out of this window, cuz if YOU’RE out, I’M gonna be out, too. There ain’t no wait here. YOU wait here, I’LL go get the help.
And hopefully have better luck doing it than Nicole did. I’m just saying.
The Mitchells are given various weapons to use against their killers. DJ has a lighter, Jamie has a stun gun, there’s a big knife in the basement … but they all seem completely inept at using ANY of these things. And they even have their own makeshift weapons. DJ has a long knitting needle while Jamie uses a sliver of broken glass from the bedroom window they didn’t escape through, wrapped in a sock, and not once does she jam it in anyone’s eye, despite a number of opportunities.
I really wanted to like this movie better than I did. I knew the home invasion aspect was going to be a sticking point, because it’s just not in my top five favorite horror subgenres, but every so often you find one that does it right (The Strangers). But I HOPED the idea of the live stream and the audience watching, not being sure if this was all real or hoax, I wanted that to be handled well enough to counter the lesser aspects of the story.
It wasn’t and it didn’t. It’s handled so poorly, along with a couple of other “twists” throughout the movie that the ending is telegraphed WAY too soon and is a complete letdown when it finally comes. Mostly because I was hoping I MIGHT be wrong and they were going to think of an even better, all original ending. But, no, they went with the ending I knew was coming.
Look, if your movie is delayed THREE years from the time it’s finished shooting to the time you finally get it in front of audiences, take a step back and maybe chalk it up to a learning experience. Dembner can say he wrote his first screenplay and Carter can say he directed his first feature length film. Lessons were learned and fun was had, but how bout we move on from this mess and make a REAL movie this time.
Just a suggestion.
C. Dennis Moore is the author of over 60 published short stories and novellas in the speculative fiction genre. Most recent appearances were in the Dark Highlands 2, What Fears Become, Dead Bait 3 and Dark Highways anthologies. His novels are Revelations, and the Angel Hill stories, The Man in the Window, The Third Floor, The Ghosts of Mertland and The Flip. He is writing another Angel Hill novel called Return to Angel Hill with co-author David Bain.