03rd Jul2017

‘Besetment’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Abby Wathen, Marlyn Mason, Michael Meyer, Max Gutfreund, Greg James, Hannah Barefoot, Lindsae Klein, Douglas Rowe, Sonya Davis | Written and Directed by Brad Douglas

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Besetment stars Abby Wathen (The Bay) as Amanda Millard, a young woman who takes a hotel position in a small town where she ends up fighting for her life…. Struggling and desperate for a job, Amanda takes a position at a hotel in a small town in Oregon. It’s a creepy, back country kind of town but owners Mildred Colvin and her son Billy seem nice enough at first. It’s not long before Amanda discovers their real intentions, and her struggle to make a living becomes a nightmarish fight for her life.

The tone of Besetment is set straight away during the films opening credits: creepy imagery of blood running down shower drains, fluids being injected into… something/someone, and stitches being removed, all set to a synth soundtrack that is a riff on the Bernard Herrmann score for Psycho. Writer/director Brad Douglas really knows how to set the mood for his film which, ultimately, more than lives up to expectations.

Starting off slowly, Besetment – despite the creepy opening – actually lulls the audience into a false sense of security. Mildred and Abby really hit it off, having an almost mother-daughter relationship; Abby has a lot of freedom, coming and going as she pleases – in fact Abby builds something of a life for herself in the small town outside of her work/realtionship with Mildred and her son. Honestly, for the first half of Douglas’ film it’s almost like watching a life-affirming Hallmark channel movie, as we see Abby settle into her new life and become happier than she ever was with her mother.

Then Abby gets sick. A sickness that turns out to be the result of Abby being pregnant… Then the proverbial s**t hits the fan!

Imagine if you will that Bates Motel wasn’t the ONLY place where a psychotic overbearing mother took control of her sons life. Then imagine if said mother was even more evil and twisted than Norman Bates ever was and not only took pleasure in torturing guests at her establishment but also her son – in ways more incestuous and insane than Hitchcock could have ever dreamed. Then have her played by an actress who not only, in the early parts of the film, is a sweet and kind natured as Mrs. Claus; but who can turn on a dime an reveal herself to be a complete (pardon my French) f**king psycho.

It’s a true tour-de-force performance from Marlyn Mason – who has worked with some of the biggest names in Hollywood – and proves just how much filmmakers can benefit from investing in having experienced actors in roles rather than the current crop of “scream queens” in roles they’re not nuanced enough for. Mason’s role is remarkable, both in terms of the character and just how much Mason gives to the film. Thankfully Abby Wathen, as Besetment‘s put-upon heroine Amanda, is a perfect foil for Marlyn Mason’s evil landlady. Whilst not as experienced (who could be up against Mason’s almost 60-year career), Wathen manages to hold her own throughout the film and the journey it takes. And when she gets the chance to shine? Wathen takes the ball and runs with it.

But back to the aforementioned score, which is easily the most captivating part of the film. Not only are there shades of Bernard Herrmann but there are occassions where you can here distinct echoes of John Carpenter’s legendary synth sundtracks to the likes of Halloween and Escape From New York. Not that Besetment‘s score sounds derivative, it is in fact very much the opposite. The original score by Graham Denman and Kyle Hnedak is at once both familiar and fresh, invoking the spirit of classic horror scores without ever becoming a parody of one. It’s a very fine line and thanksfuly Denman and Hnedak stay on the right side of homage for their score to remain interesting and at the same time intriguing.

Ultimately, Besetment is exactly is why I love covering direct to market releases – for the sheer surprise of discovering a film as good, no, as GREAT, as Douglas’ debut feature. This is what you call a true undiscovered gem; a film that, honestly, is up there with the Psycho franchise and should be an essential addition to any horror fans collection.

***** 5/5

Besetment is available on VOD now with a US DVD release to follow on September 5th.

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