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Director: Zack Ward
Writers: James Cullen Bressack, Zack Ward
Stars: Emily Roya O'Brien, Adrian Gaeta, Zack Ward
The horror genre is chock full of young couples and haunted houses with possessed ‘things’ and spirits awaiting release. It also shows no signs of slowing down. Finding creativity in this crowded corner of cinema is not easy as filmmakers mostly tweak minor bits of a very safe and familiar formula. Restoration, the latest from writer/director Zach Ward and co-writer James Cullen Bressack, rigorously clings to these tropes while at the same time offering a few minor surprises along the way.
Rebecca Jordan (Emily O’Brien) is a doctor in residency, overworked, stressed and coping with her new position at the hospital. She and her husband Todd (Adrian Gaeta) have just bought a big older house and together are planning on, you guessed it, renovating. The house was previously owned by a recluse who collected hundreds of stuffed bears, of which the couple find many strewn about the house, including one that Todd discovers in the wall. Tattered and soiled, they find a small diary inside, kept by an eleven-year-old girl, with some darkly written passages.
Meanwhile, Rebecca becomes plagued with night and daymares, eventually learning that she is pregnant. This causes some stress as do a couple who live next door who make a habit of stopping by a lot, though they seem to be friendly and very accommodating. Then there’s the strange and unsettling oddities that are increasing about the house, including ghostly shadows, noises, and something hiding in the basement.
Narratively, the story plays out conventionally, with the long slow build up that the genre necessitates. We’re treated to the same old plot devices we’ve seen before, including horrors that are actually dreams, interior lighting that cast everything in shadow, camera angles and musical cues that trigger false frights and more. It’s all well-photographed and competently directed, but also bland. The larger problem is Ward and Bressack’s lack of nuance. There is no subtlety or interpretation, and by extension, no challenge for the audience. Everything is manipulated for style and effect, which shouldn’t be a criticism since that is what Ward is going for, but when every scene is under-lit and every turn punctuated by jump scare music, there’s not much left for us to think about but the tropes it tries to invoke.
That’s not to say it all makes sense either. The build up leads to something unexpected but equally muddled that isn’t very satisfying. The ‘twist’ that every modern horror movie feels it must employ is neither shocking nor unique. Still, the performances are mostly good with O’Brien coming off the best. She’s convincing throughout and is easy to get behind. Gaeta has a few good moments but the good-natured husband role is stretched a little thin and he can’t pull of the ending. Ward casts himself as the curious neighbor Harold, and while it’s an easy target to bring up, it’s not a far stretch to think of him as the grown up Scut Farkus from his debut in 1983’s A Christmas Story.
Restoration plays it safe. It wants to be a horror movie but really isn’t. There are no truly scary moments, and any that might make you jump, are manufactured by audio cues of camera tricks with no payoff. It has none of the gore the genre demands and there is only one fleeting moment of female nudity. I bring this up simply to illustrate the tepid approach, the minimal exploration the type of film it aims to be, never committing to the banner it hides under. When you have choices like Eli Roth’s The Green Monster or even the recent The Invitation that do it far better, it’s hard to recommend. A passable weekend rental, this is just one more unimaginative story soon to be lost in the heap of so many just like it.