I missed this one when it came to the theaters, and now I wish I’d seen it on the big screen: it’s beautifully shot, with lots of atmosphere and tension and wonderful performances. It works well on the small screen, too, but in a theater it would be a much more immersive experience.
This is a tale of a haunting, not so much of a house as of people. Amelia’s husband died in a car crash while driving her to the hospital to give birth to their son Samuel, and as Sam’s birthday and the anniversary of Oskar’s death approaches, she is tormented by his memory and by a creature that seems to live in a mysterious picture book. The performances are very strong, especially those of Essie Davis as Amelia and Noah Wiseman as Sam, and the film builds to a powerful and terrifying climax that blurs reality and fantasy in a disorienting swirl. This was Jennifer Kent’s first feature film, and it’s a masterpiece.
The Evolution of Horror discussion of this movie casts it as, in part, an allegory of depression, and I think that’s true, especially in the unsettlingly sunny coda. But like a good allegory, it can be read on many levels, with symbols shifting significance depending on how you interpret them. And it also works as a straight-up horror movie, with some truly chilling creepiness and a few shocking jumps and a monster that manages to stay scary even after we’ve seen it.