Feeling frustrated by a movie isn’t unusual. The best/worst kind of frustration is when the hints of a better film are evident. It’s like eating a meal and knowing just from flavor or texture what’s missing--not enough salt, undercooked, should have used lard, too much baking powder.
That’s probably the best way to describe the experience of watching Let Her Out. There’s so much good at a technical level, and yet so much that holds it back. This is a fitting predicament for a movie about an evil, parasitic twin.
[This review is part of Flixist’s coverage of the first ever Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, which runs from October 14th to October 16th. For tickets and more information about the inaugural Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, click here.]
Let Her Out
Director: Cody Calahan
Release Date: TBD
Helen (Alanna LeVierge) never knew her mother personally, just what she did for a living. Her mom was a prostitute who worked out of a seedy motel. One night she’s raped by a mysterious john. She commits suicide not long after that because she’s become suddenly and supernaturally pregnant. Twenty-three years later, Helen gets into an accident that triggers the growth of a brain tumor. (It was in the parking lot of an ostensibly abandoned motel. Why was someone driving there?) Inside of that cluster of cells grows a long-dormant vestigial twin. The twin begins to take over, making Helen act like someone else entirely.
The look and feel of Let Her Out are great, and sort of reminiscent of a Nicolas Winding Refn movie. On a couple of occasions I was reminded of Neon Demon. Like Refn’s latest, the pinks are seductively warm, and the blues are chilly for contrast. Stephanie Copeland provides a sinister synthesizer score that nods to Cliff Martinez. Even as the film gets wobbly, director of photography Jeff Maher lenses each scene with care. Shaun Hunter and Carly Nicodemo offer up some fine special effects and practical makeup, particularly as the movie draws to a close. There are a few memorable moments that involve Helen’s twin trying to get out, and it’s gooey and gross and offers up some fine moments of body horror.
But the look and feel of the film is just one half of the whole. That other half of Let Her Out--the story, characters, and performances--leave a lot to be desired.
Helen abhors everything salacious in life; it reminds her of who her mother was, and that’s the last thing she wants to be. At least I think that’s the case. I never got to know Helen beyond some basics. What’s more, her mother never plays a role outside of the introductory flashback, so any contrast between mother and daughter (and mother and daughters) has to be inferred. Helen’s mom is just a nameless rape victim and suicide rather than an actual character--that’s a major problem. While I’m on the subject of problematic things, the film’s views on sex and sex work seem way too puritanical on top of that. Let Her Out pushes a virgin/whore dichotomy when it seems like the film’s take on sexuality could have been far more layered. Playing with the sins of the mother and/or the repression of the daughter would have been interesting, and it would have added some needed psychological horror. Sadly the screenplay written by Adam Seybold lacks depth.
The supporting cast isn’t rendered all that well either. Helen’s roommate Molly (Nina Kiri) and her scumbag boyfriend Ed (Adam Christie) are stock characters--Molly the self-absorbed theater person, Ed the self-absorbed dude-bro. One moment Molly is supportive, the next she chastises Helen for not showing up to a play. You’d think she’d take her roommate’s brain tumor into account, but no, that was two or three scenes ago. Empathy has a short shelf life. Just a little more time and care with these characters, their situations, and their motivations could have made Let Her Out much better. It would have also given the actors more to work with, and might have led to performances that weren’t so synthetic. For everything good, there’s a missed opportunity, for every set-up, there’s a missing pay off.
In my gut I think the movie could have used another draft and, more importantly, a woman’s insight. (The film’s story was by Seybold and director Cody Calahan.) The subtext of Let Her Out is how Helen assumes different roles out of necessity or expectation; in the case of Helen and her absent mother, it’s about being the exact opposite. Maybe with a woman’s pass at the script, the more terrifying and unsettling film would have emerged like a parasitic twin and taken over.