There’s Not Enough Gush in the World For How Much I Love This Movie
Main Cast: Shree Crooks and Her 200lbs of Talent
Director: Akiva Goldsman
First off I need to say I! Love! This! Movie! I’ve seen it four times now and it’s wonderful every time.
I saw Stephanie a few months ago on-demand, only watching it because Anna Torv is in it and I miss Fringe and the new season of Mindhunter isn’t on Netflix yet, so I went for a quick fix.
Little did I know she doesn’t even show up until 30 minutes into this 86-minute movie. And it’s a good thing I didn’t know, because if anything had stopped me from seeing this, I shudder to think what dark paths my life may have taken. I know this for certain, though: my world is a better place for having this movie, and the amazing Shree Crooks.
Stephanie is the story of, well, Stephanie, a little girl abandoned in a big house with her dead brother upstairs in his bedroom. Her only company is her stuffed turtle, Francis, and occasional visits by an unseen monster that sends Stephanie into silent hiding, trying desperately to control her emotions because the monster comes mostly when she’s upset.
At one point, Stephanie is leafing through a photo album and we see her parents, Anna Torv and Frank Grillo (Captain America: Winter Soldier), and by this point I would have been totally fine if that were their only appearance because by this point Shree Crooks wasn’t just carrying the movie by herself, she was giving new meaning to the idea of a one-woman show. And she was 12 when this movie came out. Probably only 11 when it was made. I only vaguely recall Crooks from her time on American Horror Story during the Hotel season, but whatever I don’t remember about her from that, she’s made sure I’ll never forget her performance here. God, this kid shines. I don’t know how many kids they tested, but whoever made the call for Shree Crooks to be the only person onscreen for the first third of this movie, that person is a genius.
And then Mom and Dad show back up and, dammit, if I wasn’t won over again. Torv and Grillo don’t just play the part of Stephanie’s absent parents, they convey a fully developed past without having to say a word about it. I immediately understood the relationship between them, I understood the kind of mother Anna Torv’s character was, and the kind of husband and father Frank Grillo was playing. I could have written their backstories myself just from watching them together for an hour on screen.
I want to explain why Stephanie’s parents were gone, I want to explain the monster, or why Paul is lying dead upstairs for the first half of the movie, but I feel like ANY details are going to spoil it, and this is definitely a movie that works best if you can go into knowing little to nothing about it.
Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski (SiREN, and Super Dark Times for both of them) have written a totally compelling and intriguing script that says only the important things, leaving just enough unsaid that the viewer isn’t going to have the entire story figured out in the first ten minutes. And then Crooks, Grillo, and Torv give such full, complex and beautiful performances, that all of the stuff that isn’t said isn’t a big deal; you’re too entranced by what’s happening onscreen. It’s not often I find a movie that’s just so perfectly made, written, acted, and directed that even the quiet moments are engaging.
Speaking of direction, Akiva Goldsman is best known as a writer, having written the two worst Batman movies, as well as one of my favorite movies, A Beautiful Mind, twelve episodes of Fringe, plus the most recent TRANSFORMERS movie, and while his few directing credits wouldn’t convince you he’d be the man to make a movie as perfect as this (did ANYONE like Winter’s Tale?), apparently he was exactly the right director because, I’m telling you, this movie is a perfect work of filmmaking. The way the plot is structured, the look of the movie, the score, the acting … listen to me, blathering on like an idiot.
My one regret with this movie is that it never got the theatrical release it deserved, because I would give them all my moneys to see this on the big screen. Alas, I’ve had settle for on-demand and then DVD because dude you KNOW I bought this DVD as soon as I saw it. And you should, too. But if you need to test the waters, it’s currently streaming on Netflix and anyone out there who hasn’t seen it and is reading this review, whatever you had planned tonight, change them and watch Stephanie instead. Yes, Sue, I’m talking to you.
Trust me, I know what I’m doing.
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.