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If there two things that go better together in horror films than young people and creepy houses, we’ve yet to see it, as the tropes have become not just standard in the genre but almost a necessity. That’s not to say some haven’t done it right. It wouldn’t be as common as it if a few hadn’t found ways to make it work. With The Snare, an experimental psychological horror film, there is much that superficially feels familiar about a trio of young people who end up in a strange place, but what lies just below is a far more impactful experience that challenges us to consider what we are seeing and question the very idea of what is real and what is not.
Near the cliffs of Dover, Alice Clarke (Eaoifa Forward) secretly joins her best mate Lizzy (Rachel Warren) and her boyfriend Carl (Dan Paton) on the top floor of an unoccupied but mostly furnished holiday season apartment building Lizzy’s real estate father has access too. Thinking they will enjoy a weekend partying alone, they wake the next morning to find the elevators are shut down, the fire doors locked and the phones out of service, including their cells, leaving them literally trapped inside.
It’s not long before they realize the gravity of their situation as there is little food and no way to contact the outside world. Worse, no one knows where they are. As tension builds between them, it becomes clear that they might not exactly be alone. While Alice becomes gripped by a paralyzing sense that a presence is watching them, the three begin to spiral into madness and mayhem as loyalties and betrayal clutch these once best friends, and yet what is actually happening is not at all what it seems.
Written and Directed by C. A. Cooper, The Snare is a smart thriller that knows the clichés it might easily fall victim to and deftly steers just to one side in making a visually arresting horror film simmering with disturbing questions. Cooper isn’t interested in revealing a monster per se but rather toying with what and where that monster might be. With bold languid moments of total blackness to jarring jump cuts that flash truly troubling and yet crucial images of terror, the film is a distressing metaphorical journey into the depths of insanity that plays as much as a mystery as it does a great scary movie.
That begins with an opening shot of a decaying white rabbit, mangled and gutted, infested with maggots, a graphic visual nudge at Alice in Wonderland that makes it clear this will not be a trip to any wonderland we are comfortable with. We then cut to Alice naked in her bedroom trying to dress as her widower, crippled father walks in, seemingly a standard habit. Her extreme discomfort sets the tone for Alice throughout, who keeps a hastily-written journal of her upsetting thoughts, and is the one who suffers the most, getting a sense from the start of their trip that something isn’t right.
As the weeks pass in isolation on the top level of this nightmare house, the three descend into a gripping triangle of opposing characteristics, each feeding the others. While the exuberant and sexually-charged Lizzy tries to make the best of it, the chaotic and violence-prone Carl bounces off the wall. But it’s Alice, the quietly remorseful and mentally scarred victim that is haunted most and is the catalyst for the madness that follows.
There are pervasive themes of sexual and mental abuse and molestation that layer the film with further subtext and as the movie edges further towards its distressing end, becomes a horrifying parable about the trappings of depression, with numerous tributaries that follow this path, including at one point having Alice actually feeding up the physical body of that metaphor. Alice asks often of the spirits that consume her, “What do you want?” Their answer is a frightening one.
It would be tempting to compare this with other ghost films, and Cooper is respectful enough to give several nods to his influences, most especially Stanley Kubrick‘s The Shining, including the highly reminiscent score (by Tim Johnson), but The Snare stands well on its own. When circles are complete, admittedly drawn with semi-lucid tones, it manages to instill a crushing sense of madness in Alice while equally compelling us to seek not just answers for what has happened, but what it all means. There are demons in this world and being rid of them is a nightmare we must pass through, even if we can’t always escape.
The Snare opens in theaters and on VOD January 6.
Movie description: The Snare is a horror film about three young friends who travel to the coast for a weekend pleasure trip only to become imprisoned by what seems like an evil paranormal entity.
Director(s): C.A. Cooper
Actor(s): Eaoifa Forward, Dan Paton, Rachel Warren