If anyone ever compiles a coffee table book of great horror movie architecture and design, this retro-postmodern-Bauhausian beach house should definitely be included, along with the modernist cabin from Rift and the classic Bauhaus sets of Edward G. Ulmer’s The Black Cat. It looks striking yet livable, but it comes with some rather undesirable neighbors in Seth A. Smith’s The Crescent (trailer here), which screens tonight during Cinepocalypse 2017 in Chicago.
Ever since her husband was lost in an accident, Beth has shunned the company of everyone but her toddler son Lowen. That even includes her own mother, but she will borrow her beach house (perched on a crescent-shaped cove) to retreat from the world with Lowen and her grief. The two or three-year-old still lacks a meaningful comprehension of death. He just continues to wander off and be a general handful, as toddlers will. However, their creepy nearest neighbor seems to have an inappropriate interest in them both (thanks for the babysitting offer, but that’s not happening). He is probably one of the ones eight or nine-year-old Sam is talking about, when she offers Beth a cryptic warning about the locals.
Crescent is exactly the sort of film the beyond-insulting term “post-horror” was coined to describe. It is definitely a slow-burner with some unambiguously metaphysical concerns, but it also has its scary moments. For instance, the funky beach house has one of the most unsettling doorbells you will ever hear—and it is prone to ring at the middle of the night.
Arguably, it is the unnerving sound design that makes the film so potent. Once you lock into its wave length, it is impossible to relax and just coast through it. Smith also dexterously uses the lonesome remoteness of the setting to build the tension. However, he drives the point into ground with an overly long denouement following the big revelation.
Rather remarkably, young Woodrow Graves, Smith’s real-life son, probably has more screen time than anyone as Lowen. In fact, some press write-ups credit him as the central lead, which is probably news to Danika Vandersteen’s agent. As Beth, she is certainly convincingly bereft and increasingly unstable. Plus, she and Graves really do look and act like mother and son. Perhaps even more impressive is the poised work of Britt Loder as Sam, who is arguably the most proactive character in the film. Lest we forget this is a horror movie, it should also be stipulated Terrence Murray is all kinds of creepy as the too-friendly neighbor.
In a rather uncommon bit of character detail, Beth practices marbling, allowing Smith to incorporate some dramatic visuals. The overall vibe of The Crescent is also genuinely unique. In many ways, it is what Aronofsky’s Mother! should have been, but wasn’t. Even though Smith draws things out too long, it is still an eerie film with post-viewing staying power. Highly recommended for fans of surreal and allegorical horror, The Crescent screens again this afternoon (11/7), as part of this year’s Cinepocalypse.