By JAMES TUCKER
Starring: Gaby Hoffman, Ingrid Jungermann, Rebecca Street
Directed by Stewart Thorndike
Written by Stewart Thorndike
Produced by Tacoma Films, Breaking Glass Pictures.
That title may seem a bit harsh, but bear with me. This film isn’t all bad, so if you were planning on skipping this one, keep reading on; this may be the film that fills a specific niche for you.
LYLE follows Leah (Gaby Hoffman) and June (Ingrid Jungermann) as they move into a new building after June accepts a very promising job offer. Leah is a bit reluctant to take her newly pregnant self and her daughter Lyle (Eleanor Hopkins) and move, but June insists that it’s the best thing for the family. Nevertheless, Leah is a little bit nervous; she feels like the place is a little strange, and the behavior of her new neighbor Karen (Rebecca Street) doesn’t make her feel any more comfortable. Karen seems a little too interested in Leah’s children, and may be faking a pregnancy of her own. June has even been acting a bit strange; she seems to be disappointed that the two of them are having another daughter, fixated on having a son, and she’s been spending a lot of time away from the house. But it’s when Lyle starts talking to empty hallways and giving her toys to an unseen figure, and when Lyle gets a little too close to an open window, that tragedy strikes; and nothing in Leah’s world will ever be the same.
“LYLE is a mostly decent film that struggles to be itself, forgoing originality for familiarity.”
When you get down to brass tacks, LYLE is really not much different from its predecessor, Rosemary’s Baby. I kept waiting for the story to take a left turn, for the director to put a new spin on that now age-old formula that countless horror films have riffed off of: woman gets pregnant, starts believing everyone wants her baby and sees supernatural shit everywhere, believes she’s going crazy only to have her suspicions validated in the third act with the exposure of some variation of satanic cult that wants her baby because reasons. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much this movie in a nutshell. The only real left turns come at the end, and they literally occur within the last twenty seconds of the film. LYLE clocks in at an hour and two minutes, and I wish it had gone on for another ten or twenty; so much feels left unresolved at the end of this film, and while in others that may have been a strength, for LYLE it feels like a weakness. Logically, the main character’s jump from “my baby fell out of a window” to “my elderly neighbor pulled a spider man, climbed up the side of the building, and opened the window herself” never quite makes much sense; her descent into “madness” feels rushed, flawed, and doesn’t really start to make sense until she does research into the building itself. The pieces come together later as her and other characters engage in a bit of meta narrative, openly riffing off of the tropes films like Rosemary’s Baby have set up; the film seems, for a while, to be willing to engage in a dialogue with its predecessor but never quite succeeds, being far too content to remain within the bounds of what has already been done. The one thing the film does to divorce itself from its predecessor is make clear that youth and ambition are the enemy, subverting the tradition of a dynasty of old white people making deals with the devil; but it isn’t enough in the end.
But the film definitely isn’t unwatchable; it’s actually pretty well shot, and the director played with a couple of interesting ideas from time to time. A traumatic event occurs over Skype just outside of what he decides to show us, a filming technique not used too often outside of the Unfriended films, and footage of a fetus in utero is inserted once or twice with a voiceover delivering monologues about motherhood (that one feels a bit pretentious to me, but hey, it’s different). The character work was phenomenal: Gaby Hoffman does an excellent job (despite some of the pacing/story issues I discussed earlier) of portraying a woman teetering on the edge of sanity, and there’s more than one scene where her barely maintained façade of sanity falls apart suddenly. Those are hands down the best scenes in the film, followed closely by her interactions with her wife June; the ways in which the two women play off of each other subtly reveal layers of buried tension and pain, making each scene they share compelling and slightly unsettling. Unfortunately, there’s little else here that stands out; the mystery the film reveals near its climax will be all too familiar for anyone who has ever seen a movie in this (weirdly specific) subgenre before. If you’re wondering if someone is a part of the cult, they are; if you think that something “shocking” will happen, it probably will. And while there are subtle differences here and there (the devil’s requirements for sacrifice, the actual people in the cabal), those differences don’t do enough to elevate the film and make it feel like its own original work. In fact, almost all of those differences are squeezed in to the last ten minutes.
LYLE is not a bad film by any stretch. But it’s not particularly original, and I think it suffers for that. It’s not a bad film to turn on if you’re looking for something familiar on a Sunday night, something comfortable where you know exactly what you’re getting and you’re just looking for a paint-by-numbers psychological horror movie. But is it the best I’ve seen in the Sematary, or even close? No. I’m giving it a 5 out of 10; just barely in the bottom half, although I could also make an argument for a 6.
We’re going to try something vastly different for Friday. Stay tuned.