Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"A film that is so focused on the presence we can’t see it forgets to fully flesh out the lives that we can." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

It all comes down to perspective in the latest from Steven Soderbergh as the twist to this tale of a family who begin to feel like they’re being watched is that we see things unfold from the point of view of the ghostly watcher.

The camera drifts through the house that has just been bought by Rebekah (Lucy Liu) and her husband Chris (Christopher Sullivan), who are moving in with their teen kids Tyler (Eddy Maday) and Chloe (Callina Liang), quietly observing what’s going on. Each moment of observation is shot in a single take (by Soderbergh under his alter ego Peter Andrews) before a cut to black. It’s an intriguing gambit and one that Soderbergh, who has never shied away from experimentation, sticks firmly too throughout the running time. But while it feels nailed on as a technical exercise, the story, written by David Koepp, feels slight by comparison. Perhaps that’s because of the ambiguity of the ghost, which quickly seems to be a rather benign presence rather than the spooky danger you might expect.

We learn about the family in snippets. Over-arching tensions are generated by Rebekah’s constant tiger-mum attitude to Tyler, on whom she lavishes attention, while berating her daughter. Chris, as a result, has a tendency to side with Chloe, who we learn has been suffering poor mental health since the death of two young friends. There’s also something going on with workaholic Rebekah’s office life which is generating further issues. Given Chloe’s fragility, perhaps it's no surprise that she is the first to notice the presence.

As we see Chloe’s books float in the air and stack away neatly there’s the nagging sensation again that this is more of a technical game for Soderbergh than an investment in what the technique could potentially do for the story.

The point of view does offer an intensity of focus and the mood is helped enormously by Zack Ryan’s atmospheric scoring but, other than Chloe, the characters are sketchily drawn. As with Soderbergh’s previous Unsane, there is a sense of some of the most interesting ideas going under-explored, in this case, the emotional manipulation of Chloe by her new boyfriend Ryan (West Mulholland). The plot pay-off could pack a punch but it is oddly underplayed in a film that is so focused on the presence we can’t see it forgets to fully flesh out the lives that we can.

Reviewed on: 25 Jan 2024
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A family moves into a suburban house and becomes convinced they’re not alone.

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Writer: David Koepp

Starring: Lucy Liu, Julia Fox, Chris Sullivan, West Mulholland, Callina Liang, Eddy Maday

Year: 2024

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: US


Sundance 2024

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