This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Sally Jane Black’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
TW: sexual assault, child abuse, racism, sexism, death, torture, kidnapping, ableism, graphic descriptions of all of the above
Assorted thoughts that might become something coherent:
* The man played by the Costa Rican actor dies first, because it's 2016, and that's how far we've come. "But the director of the film is..." Oh, shut up.
* This film is a good illustration of why "show don't tell" is such a fundamental part of so much good storytelling. Sure, there's great stuff without, but it has something else going for it. This... The best example I can think of is how it characterized Rocky's backstory. Her mother treats her badly in front of her daughter, and we get this illustration of what her homelife must be like. However, the performance and dialogue is so crude (both in terms of writing quality and content) that it amounts to a moment of "telling" anyway--it's too blunt, too unnaturally portrayed. Later, she tells Alex her history of abuse in a bad monologue that could have been heart-ripping. Instead, it sounds too rote, too disconnected. It feels like foreshadowing, not characterization. Because it is.
* Right before they go into the house, the camera is above them in the dark alley. Pools of light reveal pockets of the alley. It swoops down, and everything disorients as we see shadows and light move. Quickly, it settles into a view of the house and our lead characters. This moment of revelation and use of light and darkness is the best moment of the film.
* When Stephen Lang's character (I refuse to use the nomenclature the film uses for him) shuts out the lights in the basement, everyone is portrayed with hyper-stylized features. The sighted characters look like they are having a bad trip, but Lang looks like some sort of reptilian monster man. It's... gross. The film uses his milky eyes as a source of body horror. Earlier, it handwaves that the characters are robbing a blind man by saying he's not necessarily a saint. Sure, fine, he's clearly not, but following this up by stylizing him as a literal monster is just fucked up.
* I laughed really, really, really hard when the dog got in the vents. If the whole film were that silly, I would have loved every minute of it. My friend who went with me said he was going to call the film Crawlspace Dog from now on.
* The fakeouts and twists and "it's not over yet"s were just excessive to the point of boring. Alex should have died when he fell on the skylight. Let the cracking glass foreshadow his corpse plunging through, not thirty more minutes of his improbable survival. Rocky's first escape was plenty enough; fuck your opening shot. And the twist at the end seemed to serve absolutely no purpose. Yes, this would all have required a lot of rewriting. I am okay with that.
* When they first get into the house, the camera is super active, hovering at eye-level. It makes it feel like another person is in there with them, but it's clearly zooming in on tools and things (some admittedly not at eye-level) that are obvious foreshadowing. It does help make sense of the house a little bit, but it feels like it should be building suspense by adding an invisible presence. The foreshadowing flourishes remove that tension, dispelling that sense. The flourishes are really cheezy, and the spatial exploration is defeated by the fact that (a) there's more than half the house not shown and (b) so much of it looks the same.
* Right before Rocky is shown tied up in the cushioned dungeon, when she's initially incapacitated, the violence against has so many visual references to sexual assault that it's deeply uncomfortable. Lang's body seems poised over her as if he's straddling her forcibly, especially. It's possible this was intentional, foreshadowing what comes next, but ultimately, the entire sexual assault twist/plot line felt... pointless? Perhaps because I was not won over by the characterization, or perhaps because I was annoyed with what I perceived as ineptitude in the filmmaking, but I failed to see any real purpose, any real idea behind this home invasion reversal horror thing they had going. It uses sexism and greed especially to push/pull the characters into dangerous situations, but it doesn't seem to be saying anything interesting about them.
* Alex's quiet friendzone romance thing is called out by Rocky's macho misogynist boyfriend in the most pathetic way. At no point did I get the sense that Rocky would have somehow ended up with Alex, thank the birds, but it still felt like another pointless portrayal of sexism rather than anything worthwhile. At least the film seems to acknowledge that it is sexism? Kinda?
* Okay, yeah, the baster scene. The audience in the theatre I was in definitely freaked out, though I feel like I heard someone clapping? Disgusting. The entire sequence (including the super obvious rescue moment) is badly done, especially the exposition and handwaving about how it's "not really rape" (femme called this out, too, of course, in her comments). Of course it's goddamned rape. Is that handwave for the audience, for the censors, for the filmmakers' conscience, or some sort of commentary? I have no idea. I was way too annoyed with how fucking stupid it was. Also, people were more grossed out, audibly anyway, by it going in Lang's mouth than they were at any other part of it (the pube went by way too quickly, maybe). (To be fair, if he had succeeded in raping her with it, I imagine they woulda been more freaked by that.) The point is, though, that the energy and apparent relish the filmmakers take with that scene, knowingly grossing the audience out, knowingly dragging out Rocky's torment, knowingly emphasizing the fluids and sexual nature of the moment, turns this scene into something that seems more like a power-trip fantasy both when Rocky is tied up and when she's beating the hell out of Lang. It deflates any sense of gratification that might come from her revenge when it feels like the filmmakers enjoyed her own torment equally.
* Ultimately, it just feels muddled. Other graphic, gross, disquieting films I love come to mind here, and all of them had a clarity to them, a purpose, that this lacks. Perhaps because the goal is to gross you out and scare you, not to explore an idea or convey an idea or say something at all, which... makes it less fun for me. And also, I feel, they failed even at that. Others have eloquently expressed a very different response--nathaxn's review convinced me to go see this--but I just couldn't buy in.