This is pretty much a thumbnail sketch of what a typical slasher film ought to be … only it’s made with just that bit of extra conviction, with characters who might be archetypes but are deployed ingeniously, and a basic suspense situation that’s all but infallible. Screenwriter Mike Scannell and director Quinn Lasher essentially play the riffs, but the film undeniably works in a way that more contrived returns to the stalk-and-slash arena don’t. Young mother Laura (Yvonne Strahovski – excellent) drives out to a remote lake house husband Shawn (Justin Breuning) has bought as a family retreat, taking her demanding young daughters Maddy and Kayla (Abigail and Anna Pniowsky) along. A friendly handyman/suspect (Julian Bailey) hints that all might not be well with the place … and mentions a family who used to live there whose weird child disappeared into the woods and was never seen again. Laura finds a pre-owned children’s book, with sinister crayon annotations, and reads it to the girls. They have been lured into the woods by a trail of red thread and found a feast of cupcakes, which the greedier daughter has scoffed – resulting in a severe tummy upset. All means of escape and communication are cut off – when Laura tries to drive out to find medical help, the wheels come off her car – and a masked figure (Ryan McDonald) is glimpsed lingering around the property, watching as the traps he has set are sprung and exuding arrested childish malice.
Simply put, it’s another entry in the tiger mommy sub-genre that has thrown up some interesting recent genre films lately – including Under the Shadow, The Babadook and Hereditary, but also a slew of lesser but effective efforts like Monolith, White Coffin, Breaking In, etc – and wins points for just being that premise. What’s especially effective here is the way everyone, including the heroine and the killer, act credibly within the limitations of the contrived situation … Laura can take care of herself, even with a madman about, but has to do so while looking after ailing, unpredictable, demanding kids … and the masked man, who might be the long-gone John, approaches his campaign of terror with cruel, yet believable childish invention. A genre exercise, admittedly, but a solid one.