This psychological horror film evokes the Polanski of Repulsion but also the Todd Haynes of [SAFE] and the Altman of 3 Women … it’s tactful but disturbing, and gets into the fractured psyche of its leading lady (or ladies). A little too oblique for regular horror, it’s a haunting work – and ought to put long-faced, sad-eyed Sarah Hagan (who had a recurring role on Buffy the Vampire Slayer) into contention for further heavyweight roles.
Janie (Hagan) is either recovering from a mental breakdown or has a lifelong condition which needs to be managed. Her wealthy father is absent (and seemingly as unconcerned with her as the uncle is with the children in Turn of the Screw) and it turns out that her mother died in childbirth, so she is looked after by Irma (Barbara Crampton – with this, Road Games and We’re Still Here, the former Re-Animator star establishes herself as a terrific middle-aged character actress), who is caring but strict, devoted but (with some justification) fearful and takes ever more extreme measures to cope with her difficult charge. Irma stays on the job because she promised Janie’s mother she would look after the child, but Janie bristles under restrictions like a teenager and pointedly reminds her she’s just ‘the fucking housekeeper’. Irma lets Janie have a little more freedom to roam beyond the house, but worries when she stays out beyond her curfew. Janie has been struck by pretty girl Savannah (Sara Malakul Lane, from Sharktopus) and taken to loitering outside her home. In the most explicit scene in the film, Janie picks up a casual boyfriend of Savannah’s and has sex with him, then bashes his head to a broken skull in a bloody pulp (very gruesome effects). Not even knowing about the murder, Irma fixes an electric-shock dog-collar to confine Janie within the estate – but she learns to live with the pain and overcomes her tormentor, then lures the friendly Savannah back and puts the collar on her.
The film is wrapped up in Janie, but the third act – as Janie imitates Irma’s strategies for keeping her crush object at home – let us see her craziness from Savannah’s POV, though the normal girl can’t go to the extremes the mad woman does to escape, which dooms them both to being trapped in this luxury home (who cleans it? How are finances managed? Doesn’t anyone miss Irma or Savannah? – Janie isn’t interested in these questions, so the film doesn’t feel any need to address them) and a destructive relationship. In 3 Women, the trio meld into one – a similar process takes place here, but with each splintering as they take on aspects of the others. It’s a meticulously-crafted vision, with cool cinematography from Mathew Rudenberg (Mr Jones) and effective music from Bryan Hollon. Written and directed by Ben Cresciman.