'Lace Crater': TIFF Review

Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
Quirky tale of paranormal contact is more icky than amusing.

Think twice before sleeping with a poltergeist.

A cautionary tale about unprotected sex with paranormal apparitions, Harrison Atkins's Lace Crater is a drugged-out put-on for moviegoers so jaded they don't know whether to fear the risks of plain-old casual sex or laugh about them. What at first looks like a mumblecore comedy with a supernatural twist turns into something darker, and many viewers will not feel like going along for the detour into psychological horror. Though it may win some Millennial admirers at fests and in special engagements, the pic will likely find most of its audience on video.

Five twentysomething friends embark on the kind of Hamptons weekend getaway guaranteed to include regrettable drunken hookups. But while Ruth (Lindsay Burdge) has her eye on the house's owner, trajectories go awry after everyone pops pills. She winds up alone in a carriage house she's been told is haunted, and the lore is true: A burlap-clothed figure shuffles out of the shadows. "Hey," a surprisingly casual voice offers, "I'm Michael."

After establishing his supernatural bona fides, Michael proceeds to share dorm-room philosophical musings about his nature. But Ruth is more interested in what's under his hood, which turns out to be not hideous but kind of cute. In a sequence edited with sewing-machine energy, they have sex; naturally, he's gone in the morning.

Ruth barfs in the car on the way back to New York, something her friends take in stride, but soon proves to have more than a hangover. At home she starts shedding skin, waking up covered in afterbirth-like goo, vomiting black fluid. And she's evidently doing things she doesn't remember, leaving her best friend Claudette (Jen Kim) feeling first concerned, then betrayed.

When a doctor tells Ruth she has a "very uncommon" STD, we may still believe we're on a dark-comic trajectory, despite the druggy wooziness with which Atkins presents her creepy affliction. But the film pivots to focus on her rapid alienation from the people who should be supporting her, stoking Rosemary's Baby-like dread, and when she heads back out to the Hamptons by herself, it does not give the impression the mortal and the ghost are going to reunite in eternal conjugal bliss.

First-timer Atkins shows his influences by casting producer Joe Swanberg as Ruth's forgiveness-seeking ex, but his film has only superficial similarities to those made by Swanberg and his peers. It is less interested in its characters and their attitudes toward adulthood, less self-conscious about filmmaking artifice. But however confused it may be, it musters some effective ghost-story ambiguity in the end.

 

Production company: Forager Film Company

Cast: Lindsay Burdge, Peter Vack, Jen Kim, Andrew Ryder, Chase Williamson, Keith Poulson, Joe Swanberg, William Nadylam

Director-Screenwriter: Harrison Atkins

Producers: Lawrence Dai, Joe Swanberg, Adam Kritzer

Executive producer: Eddie Linker

Director of photography: Gideon de Villiers

Production designer: Luke Green

Costume designers: Rachel Birnbaum, Kati Skelton

Editor: Harrison Atkins

Music: Alan Palomo

Sales: Forager Film Company

No rating, 81 minutes

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