Director: Todd Alcott
Writer: Todd Alcott, Holly Golden
Producer: Ilan Arboleda, Holly Golden
Stars: Cristin Milioti, Michael Rady, James Urbaniak, Toby Huss, Macey Cruthird, Katherine Kamhi, Mary Pat Farrell, Gena Shaw
A young couple moves into a new home and begins experiencing ghostly visions of a murderous man and his slaughtered family.
There is something not quite right about a haunted house movie that does not take place in a 100-year-old Victorian mansion or some other suitably eerie domicile. Modern homes built from DIY blueprints to look like sleek boxes just do not possess the mystique required for developing a unique personality, which is something a residence needs to have in a horror film. Then again, although “The Occupants” initially presents itself as one, the movie is not exactly a haunted house thriller.
Lucy and Wade move into a prime mountainside home with their newborn son Jack, but this idyllic setting comes with the steep price of nightly visions involving a man murdering his family. A cavalcade of support from her therapist ex-boyfriend, Christian babysitter, aloof sister, and useless psychic medium then parades through Lucy’s life in an effort to help the frazzled woman solve the mystery of her ghostly haunting.
The movie’s presentation is oddly geared towards a TV look with lighting bright enough to illuminate a theater stage. An additional out of place cinematic choice is staging the murder flashbacks without a filter or a camera trick, instead letting dead ghosts appear before live homeowners like any other ordinary person in their home. It is a disarming copout cutting one way as a failure to frighten and slicing the other as a spotlight on supposed ghouls in obvious Halloween makeup.
Nowhere is there a moody shadow or a sense of style working to create atmosphere that the script may not inherently have. That puts the burden on the cast to engage the audience in the story, which is a tall order for star Cristin Milioti to carry alone since she is never offscreen for more than a few seconds.
Overacting can be remedied through attentive directing, so the overdose of melodrama on display is a collaborative breakdown between Milioti and director Todd Alcott. Milioti is certainly not without talent. She would not have been cast in “The Sopranos,” “How I Met Your Mother,” or “The Wolf of Wall Street” if she were. But without an Alan Taylor or a Martin Scorsese properly calibrating her levels, Milioti is left in the wind to carry her performance too far. Her perpetually unblinking saucer eyes bulging from her head to sell shock require an outside influence to dial the delivery back towards reasonable.
Her character also wears the same blouse two days in a row. That may have been the result of scene rearrangement in post-production, since she has another shirt in between, or it may have a been a wardrobe oversight. Even dismissing the gaffe as a minor thing to quibble about, it suggests a potentially larger attitude of “getting the shoot over with” and not caring enough about details.
An obvious attempt at giving the villain an exact resemblance to Jack Nicholson in “The Shining” is another misfire. The issue with duplicating a recognizable image such as Jack Torrance in his distinctive plaid shirt and red coat is that it immediately breaks any original fantasy that “The Occupants” wishes to create. And giving the audience a touchstone in their minds to one of the most highly regarded suspense films of all time can only make “The Occupants” seem further inferior by comparison.
“The Occupants” is a movie hampered by filmmaking decisions that knock over every building block it tries putting in place. Part psychological thriller and part cold case murder mystery, the temperature is only lukewarm enough for a cable television movie and never anything more. Its story of a rattled young mother losing her sanity while coping with ghostly apparitions is ok, albeit nothing inventive. But choosing to frame itself as a traditional ghost story with horror elements misrepresents the movie when it would have been a better fit slotted into a one-hour forensic investigation or crime drama TV series.
NOTE: “The Occupants” was previously titled “Blood Relative.”
Review Score: 55