A young woman (Vivien Ngô) is brought to an isolated house, abducted by a man who calls himself Father (Casper Van Dien) and explains to the chained captive ‘we are not violent people’ and that she will not be sexually assaulted but that she is required to be the daughter to his family, which consists of Mother (Elyse Dinh), similarly press-ganged, and Brother (Ian Alexander), who is sickly and privileged but not unaware of the situation in his household. In a prologue, the masked Father executed another woman (Megan Le), the previous Daughter, so there’s clearly pressure on the new Daughter to go along with simple rules, and be rewarded with increasing freedoms for so doing. But, like Mother, she doesn’t give up on the idea of freedom. Father, like the domineering boor in 10 Cloverfield Lane, claims that the air outside is toxic – which it might well be for his son, if the boy is his son. An air of apocalypse hovers over the house, but this is mostly an indoors movie – with a slightly fisheye, oppressive, distorted look as the minimally-furnished home is viewed essentially as a prison.
Writer-director Corey Deshon plays out a domestic drama of paternal oppression and small, stubborn resistance as if it were taking place in a surreal pocket universe that looks like a regular house (though, of course, the set-up happens to fit the way the world became c 2020, just after the film finished shooting). Life outside doesn’t obtrude, though there are hints that it exists. Van Dien, in a career-best performance, is an understated monster: a man who thinks he’s entirely reasonable as he does appalling things, forever playing the ‘look what you made me do’ card even as he sells voluntary submission and restraints as reasonable measures considering the situation. As remarkable is the work from Ngô and Dinh, who play characters who can only express individuality in short bursts while mostly (and literally) keeping their heads down. Alexander, who registers as sickly, has to bring life to the menage, expressing himself through painting and genuinely winning over his captured carers even as he senses the wrongnesses committed to ensure he has a ‘normal’ family to grow up in. The storyline develops through smally gestures, connections and fractures, building to a breaking point that’s as shocking as it is cathartic.