Director Travis Stevens, who co-writes here with Nathan Faudree, is making small-scale, ‘different take’ horror films – a ghost story (Girl on the Third Floor), a vampire story (Jakob’s Wife) and now a serial killer story – which hinge on male-female relationships; all three of his films feature feckless, wrong-headed, weak-but-domineering guys and women who wind up turned into monsters. Stevens’ work has been getting progressively more stylish and stylised too – and this is his most theatrical piece yet, gorgeously shot with vivid, hallucinatory intrusions from Greek drama.
It opens with an auctioneer (Neal Mayer) giving a lecture about the Erinyes as a bronze of the three vengeful female spirits goes under the hammer – with chic blonde buyer Kate (Malin Barr) besting nervy Bruce Ernst (Josh Ruben), only for Bruce to show up at her isolated pad as she’s celebrating the coup, purporting to up the offer his supposed employer is willing to make on the statue but actually to murder her. Bruce is a serial killer who has compartmentalised his mind – he thinks of himself as a nice guy who struggles to keep his demons in check whereas the murdering part of his psyche is externalised as an alarming apparition called the Red Owl (Marshall Taylor Thurman). All this is prologue to a two-act piece set in Bruce’s woodland lair/killing ground as Meredith (Sarah Lind), on the point of committing to a relationship with him, is brought back for a romantic weekend – which Bruce may really think is his own intent, though the Red Owl begs to differ. It doesn’t take long for Bruce’s charm to shred – Ruben, in his own directorial debut Scare Me, played a similar resentful guy – but Meredith isn’t entirely helpless at his mercy … if Bruce has the Red Owl urging him to slaughter, Meredith has the Erinyes in her corner.
It’s mostly a cat-and-mouse two-character piece, but the supernatural intrusions – which lead to extreme plot events – give it a rich, strange feel. Effects man Dan Martin gets another shot at creating the Erinyes (after his work on the stage show The Hallowe’en Sessions, where Maura McHugh tapped into the same myth in a similar tale) and the results are extremely effective. The writing is grounded, witty and nuanced – this fits into a wider strain of recent toxic masculinity horrors which includes, of course, Men – and the performances excellent, but Stevens ambitiously goes for a sumptuous, magical tone rather than playing for realism.