United States. Directed by Brendan Steere, 2013. Starring Tracy Willet, Marcin Paluch, Tom Martin. 103 minutes.

It’s a story we all know too well: a young couple takes up residence in an isolated house in the woods (presumably having bought it with a bag of big-city money)…only to find their lives, their very souls, threatened by horrors unimaginable. That’s what we expect will happen to composer Carrie Bonner (Tracey Willet) and her husband Mike (Marcin Paluch) in Animosity. And sure enough, Carrie soon has several bizarre encounters with her eccentric–and violent–new neighbor Tom (Stephan Goldbach). But what is Carrie to do when it turns out that the horror behind Tom’s behavior wears a very familiar face?

The horror of Animosity comes from examination of the film’s main premise and its effect on the main characters. This is one of the archetypal myths of the genre: characters seek to transcend the laws of nature to claim their greatest desire, only to find the price is too high. It doesn’t matter that their motivation is initially well-meaning if not exactly altruistic–this isn’t a goal one can achieve without discarding morality and courting madness. Writer/director Brendan Steere relies on the the fall from grace to drive the plot, and the film’s scariness is largely conceptual. There are a couple of scenes of graphic violence, and no jump-scares; this is an altogether more thoughtful breed of horror.

Steere doesn’t develop the storyline as coherently as he might have, and the ending, while not exactly weak or anticlimactic, isn’t quite as powerful as I’d have liked. The plotting, however, is solid and suspenseful, and the characterization engaging. As a director, Steere milks his location for everything it’s got: the Bonner homestead certainly seems like it’s in the middle of nowhere. When Carrie says, “I didn’t even know we had neighbors” you can readily believe her. The film’s tone is dark, but not oppressively so; the clips from the Hammer-esque zombie movie Carrie provides the score to is a ready source of comic relief.

Carrie Bonner is a fantastic role, the sort that should come instantly to mind whenever the words “strong female lead” are used and Willet is more than equal to the task of bringing her to life; her exceptional performance, reminiscent of Angela Bettis’s best work, helps carry the film. Palette’s performance is similarly strong. Goldbach overdoes Tom’s craziness a tad, but for the most part it works. Other impressive cast members are Tom Martin as Mike’s suspicious and secretive boss and Rob O’Rourke as a frightened young man with a strange connection to Tom.

Animosity is an excellent and effective exercise in horror–not the temporary fright that comes from sudden shocks, but the insidious, creeping terror that burrows its way into your brain and haunts your nightmares for weeks. From here, its reputation will do nothing but grow.

Animosity poster

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