It’s déjà vu all over again
“Traumatised by a car accident, a young woman moves into an old house, where she is plagued by hallucinations. But are the visions all in her mind? Or is a sinister presence in the house trying to communicate with her?” Given the currency of contained horror films and psychological thrillers – “low budget horror films set within a single location” appears on every ‘Screenwriters Wanted’ list in Hollywood – it it’s no surprise that the above breakdown sounds so familiar. What is more surprising is that it sounds exactly like the synopsis of both director Kevin Greutert’s last Blumhouse-produced film, Jessabelle, and their latest collaboration, Visions. Yet the surface similarity between both films actually works in Visions’ favour, as the audience trying to unravel the developing mystery will be as wrong-footed here as they were in Jessabelle. Greutert, in other words, knows horror genre conventions (he edited the first five Saw films, and directed the last two) and is both eager and qualified to subvert them.
A year after the no-fault traffic collision that has tragic consequences for the occupants of the other car, Eveleigh Maddox (Scots actress Isla Fisher) resolves to put the trauma behind her, moving into a rundown California vineyard with her husband David (Anson Mount) in the hopes of reviving the winery’s withered fortunes. Three months pregnant and struggling to cope with what her doctor (The Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons) describes as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Eveleigh is off her meds and, upon moving into the house, prone to visions and aural hallucinations both specific (kettle whistles, smashed wine bottles, smears of blood on the walls) and horrific (hooded figures, bodies surfacing from the local pond). David believes the visions are the result of Eveleigh coming off her meds, while her new friend Sadie (Gillian Jacobs), also pregnant, is horrified to think that Eveleigh would put her unborn child at risk by taking anti-depressants. But Eveleigh is at her wits’ end: wine critic Helena (Blade Runner’s Joanna Cassidy), who claims to be sensitive to supernatural forces, feels that there’s something wrong with the house, but the real estate agent swears nothing traumatic ever happened there – a claim the local newspaper archives appear to substantiate. So what exactly is going on?
Let’s suffice it to say that screenwriter Lucas Sussman (who co-wrote early drafts of ghosts-in-a-submarine horror Below with Darren Aronofsky, before writer-director David Twohy sank it without trace) has constructed a Swiss watch of a screenplay, for which the powerhouse Blumhouse production operation has found the perfect director in Greutert. As is often the case with twisty psychological thrillers, there’s many a slip ‘twixt concept and script, and any wrong move on the part of writer or director will bring the whole house of cards crashing down around their ears. Yet as with Jessabelle, for which he was gifted with an equally smart and tricksy script, Greutert’s sure-handed direction (and editing) ensure that the mystery endures until the very end.
Visions may lack some of the atmosphere of Jessabelle, which used its Louisiana locations to great effect, and Fisher lacks the compelling, quirkier presence of the earlier film’s Sarah Snook, but Visions serves as further evidence that Greutert is one of the most interesting mainstream horror directors around – I can easily see a The Conjuring-style success in his future – and that despite its many diminishing-returns franchise films (Paranormal Activity, Sinister, Insidious, et al.), Blumhouse is far from running out of ideas.
VISIONS is out now in the US from Universal Pictures