Monday, September 11, 2017

All In the Family

Here's a new test for the entertainment threshold of a film: let's say you ride the bus every day, as I do here in New York. You get used to the occasional mad man or woman shouting from the backseat about the wrongs of the world or the assets of, say, Aisha Tyler or Cheetos. Sometimes it's far more interesting than anything I might otherwise enjoy on my commute via a movie or magazine. Others, it's not worth the time it takes to hit pause and remove an earbud discretely.

I watched today's feature during my ride home from work, and sure enough, on this fateful Friday, there was indeed a raving yeller who had a LOT to say about current events. And you know what? Said nonsense was indeed less interesting, at least at that moment, than the low budget little horror film I had downloaded to my phone. Now I have much to say about The Chosen and much of it is not positive, but I'll give the film this: it was more entertaining than the angry homeless man on the Bx19. 

Best DVD cover tagline ever.

Quick Plot: Cam is an aimless 19-year-old with a complicated but loving relationship with his recovering alcoholic mother Eliza, recovering heroin addict sister Caitlin, and thus far, safely balanced niece Angie. When Eliza goes away for a long weekend, Cam disobeys her orders by bringing Angie to visit her mother Caitlin, who lives in an unpleasant apartment with some unseemly neighbors.

The sympathetic Cam hears a little too much fighting next door and barges in, breaking up a rumble between a crazed young woman and a blood-marked man who quickly escapes as Angie watches and, it would seem, becomes possessed by the angry child soul-snatching spirit of the biblical Lilith.

With the help of aforementioned crazed neighbor and a mysteriously disappearing/reappearing nun, Cam learns some hard facts: Angie has six days left on earth, after which time Lilith will drag her to hell. The only way to prevent this is to sacrifice six blood-related humans, marking them with a symbol and letting Lilith do the rest. 

Cam is dubious but must have seen enough horror films to know disappearing/reappearing nuns should not be ignored, so when he walks in on his grandmother in the midst of a stroke, he decides to give his finger painting skills a try. Sure enough, some black Lost-ish smoke comes to take her body away. One down, five to go.

Directed by newcomer Ben Jehoshua, The Chosen is an odd little duck. Much like Perkins' 14, it's built on a strong premise that feels like a new enough spin on a familiar and straightforward concept. It clearly values its characters, taking time early on to establish the family dynamics in detail, from Eliza (played by Catherine Keener's sister Elizabeth and yes, I guessed the family connection before looking at the credits)'s recovery and faith to the lazy but maybe deep down, caring Uncle Joey. Cam is a nice kid, and murdering six of his relatives is not something the film treats lightly...

At first.

Somewhere during the running time, The Chosen gets kind of silly. Perhaps its ridiculousness corresponded inversely with the budget running out, as the CGI--which becomes all too prominent towards the film's back half--is, plain and simple, rather laughable. Maybe Jehoshua was smart in lightening his film's tone as the visual look became impossible to present seriously. Think of it as a sort of reverse Heidi effect.

What starts as an earnest family tale about a kind young man trying to protect his niece turns into an odd maybe horror comedy. I say "maybe" because I honestly don't know if I was supposed to be invested or amused at how quickly Cam goes from apologetic to enthusiastic about his murders. By the time the credits abruptly roll to a rap tune, I could only shrug and accept it all in stride. 

High Points
The film's first death is truly upsetting, as the elderly Nanny suffers an attack while falling on cracking knees and gasping for air. It sets a sad and realistic tone that unfortunately, the film doesn't seem to have had the resources to follow through 

Low Points
I totally understand how difficult it must be to make a horror film on a limited budget. I also totally understand that if you know your budget won't pay for LucasFilms levels of CGI, perhaps you should use the bargain bin type more sparingly

Lessons Learned
If doubtful about your girlfriend's claim that you're the father of her unborn baby, save a trip to Maury and get a paternity test the old fashioned way with a simple sacrificial offer to a demon

Duct tape is strong, but whiny prep cousins just might be stronger

Always remember where your uncle's gambling-related bruises are located

Hey! It's- 
The painting from Ever After!

and yes, I know it's actually a real Leonardo da Vinci piece and reproductions are common, but you can't expect me to see an Ever After visual reference and not immediately spin a prequel where the family is actually related to Drew Barrymore's character and why can't I have that movie or at the very least, ANY Ever After sequel right now?

The Chosen has (quite a few) problems, but it also shows a little more heart and earnestness than you often find with movies of its ilk. I can't say it's good or scary, but for a good 90 minutes, I enjoyed watching it, at least more than I did watching the man wearing one shoe complain about the bus temperature. 


  1. Watched it last night.
    It is kind of odd in how it has a patchy veneer of comedy... as if it might have originally been intended as a Raimi-esque (or Henlotter-esque) bit of gonzo-horror... then toned back to... what it is.
    An entertaining idea that the writing doesn't really explore anywhere near its potential.
    The cheap FX didn't bother me at all, except to wonder why they felt they needed them... vs. some makeup and gruesome sounds.

    1. Yeah, I'm glad i wasn't alone on seeing those tonal shifts. I wish the film had just committed to its earnest, serious tone. That worked, and if they worked around the lack of high caliber CGI (rather than all out embracing it), I think it could have been something special.