(director/writer: Brett Pierce/Drew T. Pierce; cinematographer: Conor Murphy; editor: Terry Yates; music: Devin Burrows; cast:  John-Paul Howard (Ben), Jamison Jones (Liam), Azie Tespai (Sara), Piper Curda (Murda), Zarah Mahler (Abbie), Kevin Bigley (Ty), Gabriela Quezada Bloomgarden (JJ), Richard Ellis (Gage), Blane Crockarell (Dillon), Judah Paul (Nathan), Ja’Layah Washington (Lily), Amy Waller (Nora); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Chang Tseng, Ed Polgardy, Brett Pierce, Drew Pierce; IFC Midnight; 2019)

A chilling, by-the-numbers, summer-vacation supernatural horror pic.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A chilling, by-the-numbers, summer-vacation supernatural horror pic, finely directed and written by the brothers, Brett and Drew T. Pierce (“Deadheads”).

The indie film was originally titled Hag (a title I would have preferred).

The troubled teen Ben (John-Paul Howard), trying his best to understand his parents’ separation, has a broken arm caused by a suspicious incident and he’s sent off by mom to spend a summer with his divorced dad Liam (Jamison Jones) and dad’s new girlfriend Sara (Azie Tesfai) at a coastal resort.

Dad gets him a summer job at the luxury marina he’s the manager of. The kid’s attracted to the smart, pretty and also troubled teen Mallory (Piper Curda), who works there.

But his interest is piqued by the weirdo family who rent a large house next door. He finds the mom, Abbie (Zarah Mahler), a real strange one. There’s also her husband Ty (Kevin Bigley) and their young son Dillon (Blane Crockarell). One day he notices the infant vanishes after he spots a ghastly looking creature on the premises.

Thereby the kid takes Mallory into the woods to investigate, even though Ty tells him there are no children in his family.

Since the movie began with a dark incident taking place in this house 35 years ago–showing outside the house a knitted bunny, crayons, model cars, an Etch-a-Sketch, a Rubik’s Cube that lie abandoned in the rain and then something gruesome taking place inside the house…we’re left guessing that there’s possibly an ancient witch living under a tree in the surrounding forest and she’s attacking the locals. I would know that to be true if all I saw were Stephen King horror films.

In any case, Ben has the task of facing off with a thousand-year-old witch living beneath the skin of and posing as Abbie. Not that I fell for such hokum, but it all came across as disarmingly entertaining. The brothers pay homage to the horror films of the 1970s and 1980s of this B-film ilk. They deliver a polished retro film that adequately updates to the present and has a nice crisp pace, making it, if nothing else, at least watchable. I can’t say I loved it, but it had many fun silly moments of horror and did a splendid job to get in its scares through its character study rather than through the usual jump scares.

The action is split between tuning into Ben’s so-called normal family and Abbie’s abnormal one (I found the latter one more to my liking).

REVIEWED ON 5/16/2020  GRADE: B-