Marion (Glenda Morgan Brown) lives in a large detached property in the sleepy American town of Haley. She's not getting any younger and her son Frank (Bryant Watts) decides to hire a "caretaker" to help out around the place. Marion is not happy.
However, Frank interviews attractive young Rebecca (Rachel Alig) in front of a disgruntled Marion and decides she's perfect for the job. She certainly sounds sincere enough: "I'm here to help", "I'm willing to fit into your life and to make it better", "If I'm to move in, you have every right to know more about me than what's on my resume" etc.
And so, Rebecca moves in. She sets about trying to impress herself upon the initially reluctant Marion. In her defence, the latter makes it clear that her reticence is nothing personal - she just values her independence. Marion shows Rebecca around the house and points out what will be her bedroom; however, when Rebecca catches sight of the huge, extended basement beneath the house, she claims that as her living quarters. Marion is understandably a little perplexed by this choice.
Over time, though, Rebecca's friendly but non-intrusive manner starts to work its charm ... and the fact that she is enormously respectful of Marion's wishes to retain an element of independence help a friendship to naturally develop between them.
Once her feet are under the table, Rebecca suggests to Marion that she should advertise the house's spare room as being free for passing travellers. She argues this is a good way to meet people, help folk out, and make sensible use of the abundance of space on Marion's hands. Marion agrees; Rebecca swiftly signs up online to the site myfreebed.com and waits for responses to come in.
Before long, the pair is taking in house guests just looking for somewhere to stay for free overnight. Marion is disappointed how some of these folk leave extra early on a morning, robbing her of the opportunity to cook them breakfast. But we know the truth: Rebecca is injecting these guests with embalming fluid in the dead of night. Their crimes? General impoliteness, but by and large looking at their mobile telephones while people try to converse with them.
Up to a point, all of the guests (and occasional victims) are lone travellers. Then comes married couple Tim (writer-director Les Mahoney) and Linda (Laura Lee). Rebecca takes an instant shine to IT consultant Tim, and the attraction is clearly mutual. Linda is so absorbed in her mobile telephone that she doesn't notice these early sparks.
Of course, Linda's ignorance while Marion is trying to make polite small talk with her, is not bringing her into favour with Rebecca. But she survives the night - only for Tim to announce that they plan to stay for a second evening (much to Linda's surprise). This gives he and Rebecca ample opportunity to murder his wife and consummate their relationship. The following morning, Marion is told that Linda left Tim in the night.
But then, complications arise. Tim stays on at the house during his period of "grieving"; a detective named Boarstag (Bill Oberst Jr) turns up in search of the missing Linda ... and Marion responds, rather unexpectedly, by backing up her housemates' story.
Things are about to change in this household ...
Mahoney has worked rather prolifically as a film extra and TV actor over the last decade or so. The Colorado-shot AT GRANNY'S HOUSE is his feature directorial debut, following two short films he'd previously helmed.
It's a mixed bag of a film. On the one hand, it's clearly been filmed on a low budget - there is a distinct lack of gore, effects or any fanciful direction; the setting and cast of characters is kept to a minimum; a lot of the static action feels as though were watching the televisation of a stage play.
The acting is erratic throughout. Some of it's bloody awful, in honesty. Events often look like they've been shot on a single camera, and then edited together in a loose fashion which badly stilts the flow of dialogue.
Oh, and the film has the sheen of a made-for-TV flick. This doesn't help its attempts at eliciting suspense.
On the plus side, the two leads - Morgan Brown and Alig - are very good in their roles. Oberst Jr lends gravitas to any film he's in and there's no change here: he's the most memorable character in the movie. Alas, his role is somewhat brief.
The sex scenes between Alig and Mahoney are an unexpected addition, throwing in some inserted soft-core action which feels both ill at ease with the rather genteel thriller approach of the rest of the film, and giving it a hint of necessary edge.
Mahoney's script may not offer many surprises but does have a quirkiness about it which reminded me of the glut of indie thrillers which infiltrated cinemas during the early 90s (RED ROCK WEST etc). It's not in their league, of course, but does strive for character-based slow-burn action with underlying humour, as opposed to bombastic violent set-pieces. There's also an agreeable darkness to the prolonged (though never graphic) murder scenes which lends a darkness to proceedings.
The director cites Hitchcock as a major influence. Obviously one lead character is named after REBECCA; Oberst Jr's character name Boarstag is an anagram of Arbogast, Martin Balsam's detective in PSYCHO; visual references to TORN CURTAIN and THE BIRDS. This influence is evident not in these nods, but in the film's reliance on characterisation; subtle humour wrapped in a thriller setting; a score which balances itself between playful and understated; the psychological aspect of the film's final thirty minutes; and a low-key plot incorporating elements of romance, mystery and double-crossings.
Mahoney isn't Hitchcock, of course, but at least his ambition and the fact that AT GRANNY'S HOUSE emerges as a quietly impressive offering despite its shortcomings suggest he could go on to producing more essential fare.
AT GRANNY'S HOUSE (awful title) is available now via Vagabond Entertainment as a VOD title.
We were sent an online screener link for review purposes. The film looks healthy and clean in a standard definition print which presents it uncut at 86 minutes and 20 seconds in length. The 16x9 transfer exhibits strong colours and sharp detail but does have that rather TV movie-ish sheen to it.
English 2.0 audio was fine, if unremarkable, throughout.
AT GRANNY'S HOUSE has its share of flaws (listed above), but I'd still say the good outweighs the bad. It's a thriller, not a horror, so bear that in mind too.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Vagabond Entertainment|