Studio: Uncork’d Entertainment
Director: Matt Hish
Writer: Ian Ascher, Chris Freeman, Matt Hish
Producer: Joe Isgro, Autumn Federici, Chris Freeman, Justin Jones, Joseph Khoury
Stars: Rib Hillis, Jessica Morris, Hannah Cowley, Dane Hillis, Vivienne Bollinger, Neil Dickson, Judd Nelson
A family tragedy unlocks a mysterious connection to a Viking bloodline and a small town protecting a dark secret.
“Haunting of the Innocent” is a movie with unique ideas for a thriller centered on Norse mythology that buries itself under slow mounting exposition with a shovel of mismatched framing devices. Initial intrigue from the Viking angle sustains interest for a while, but what the film offers in originality cannot overcome a leisurely build pushing back against any momentum.
The story starts with a suburban home invasion that results in a violent sexual assault. A meanwhile scene follows and shows the victim’s husband carrying out an affair with a co-worker at his swanky Los Angeles architecture firm. It is an odd introduction to the film’s presumed heroine, as being sexually violated is the first action she is depicted in, and being married to a louse is the first fact known about her. These may qualify as story beats, but not necessarily as sound character development.
Recovering from the trauma takes the couple and their young son to a small town where they plan to stay with grandfather Erik. Thornby is a town rich in Viking tradition stretching back to a fabled history involving a warrior colony beset by a seductive witch. Whispers of runic symbols and tales of fair-haired maidens with gladius-wielding swordsmen complete the backstory of Nordic heritage that gives “Haunting of the Innocent” an original backdrop to set its story against.
Unfortunately, the remainder of the screenplay and the subsequent cinematic delivery puts those original pieces on an unoriginal playing board of possession through the ages, small town secrets, and centuries-old revenge. All the front-loaded promise of premises rarely, if ever, seen before in this style of film end up setting the stage for a plot lacking the fearlessness to carry these ideas into truly unseen territory.
It’s a disappointment too, because “Haunting of the Innocent” has the initial appearance of a production that could buck the expectation of poor value from a low-budget indie horror film premiering at Redbox. Until a fiery bone pit explosion that ironically does not look so hot, subtle digital FX blend effectively into scenery without sticking out like a bright red bandaged thumb. Spare use of CGI is wisely employed as an enhancement instead of as a crutch with simple shots like cawing crows and burning wisps of smoldering embers.
The worst thing that can be said about the cinematography and the score is that they do not stand out as particularly noticeable. That is partly attributable to a production playing it safe, and partly due to serviceable standards that at least never call attention to themselves because of any amateurism on display.
Despite a sharp enough look and captivating kickstart, “Haunting of the Innocent” never establishes a rhythm that can move it past some cardboard characterizations, e.g. a cheating husband and a grandfather who doesn’t think his son-in-law is good enough for his daughter, and a flatlined pace. “Haunting of the Innocent” seems to build towards peaks that never come, making for a movie that exists in a low trough for the crux of its runtime.
While the movie itself rightly credits Judd Nelson with an “and” before listing him last in the opening actor names, the movie’s cover art puts Nelson above the title. Even if there are still people out there drawn to a movie because of his singular presence, it is a misguided incentive since he appears in just three brief scenes with throwaway dialogue in only two of them.
In fact, those scenes could be cut from the movie entirely and nobody would notice or care, probably Judd Nelson included. And that is a summation of the greatest problem for “Haunting of the Innocent.” It has too many unnecessary pieces gumming the gears of what could have been a memorable indie thriller.
Somewhere in there is a story with horsepower and ideas with enough tread to take it somewhere interesting. Without a proper tuneup to its screenplay and its delivery however, the film cannot help but stall in the middle of the road while its engine floods with mortar-thick tempo and its tires are deflated by routine convention.
Review Score: 65