Introspective Ghost Fornication Finds Naturalism in The Netherworld
By Nadia Robertson
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LACE CRATER, a semi-cinematic spectrophillan glance into the removed mood of millennial angst, depicts an otherworldly connection shared between two lost souls both feeling detachment from their empty existences in an otherwise vibrant world. A first time feature written and directed by Harrison Atkins, this offbeat horror/comedy provides a paranormal twist to the age-old “girl meets boy” story while maintaining all the typical tropes of a twentysomething soul searching drama.
Lindsay Burdge (The Invitation) stars as Ruth, an emotionally adrift protagonist whose generational low-key listlessness would do Sofia Coppola proud as she wanders like a ghost through an seemingly charmed life. Beginning the road to recovery from a brutal breakup, Ruth joins a small group of close-knit pals on a weekend romp in the Hamptons in hopes of drowning her sorrows, and instead winds up feeling more distanced from those she wishes to become closer to.
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After a self-involved evening of drug induced, pseudo eloquent ponderings on life, Ruth retreats to a supposedly haunted guesthouse where she has volunteered to spend the night in. There in the darkness she has an unexpected rendezvous with a soft-spoken specter who turns out to possess more open hearted bleeding vulnerability than any kind of malice. Finding herself drawn to his desperation for human intimacy, Ruth gives in to the ghost’s sensual excitability and the two melt into one another during a night of steamy passion made frenetic by jumbled editing ambitions.
Alone again the morning after, like many a woman after a one-night stand, Ruth awakens to discover the serious side-affects of her impulsive tryst. Like a warning against unprotected female promiscuity, Ruth begins to experience the unsettling aftermath of her acts, and after a doctor’s visit is diagnosed with a mysterious, unknown STD. The nature of her ill-advised sexuality is harped on, to the point where when Ruth later screams “I didn’t do anything wrong!” to a previously accepting group of frightened friends, it stands as a not so subtle defense of female sexual liberation from narrow minded gender expectations.
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LACE CRATER captures the essence of what it feels like to be sleepwalking through the fog of a bad dream, while also not quite fully realizing its potential as either a comedy or a horror film as it safely nuzzles itself in the growingly popular “mumblegore” genre without pushing any particular boundaries. The ethereal lethargy alive in Ruth’s dissent speaks to a dissatisfied youth emotionally alienated from healthy interpersonal relationships and firm grasps on adult realities. There’s an almost unbearable ennui evoked by the uneasy stasis the characters seem to be stuck in, as though both Ruth and her ghostly guy are trapped in a disconnected psychological limbo.
The micro-budget lends itself to some amateurish stylistic choices that don’t quite come together, creating a digital look that attempts to convey atmospheric, disorienting chaos. However, the low key naturalism in both the sincere performances and Terrence Malick inspired cinematography highlight Atkins’ potential as an up and coming director worthy of note. An emotionally driven work, LACE CRATER reflects a disturbed transitional state of mind, where severe anxieties and strange paranoia lead to erratic hallucinations and questionable realities. Like Malick, there’s a lot of dreamy hair tousling and purposeful tentativeness, as well as an admiration of the beautiful eeriness of nature as the ever-floating camera drifts across haunting landscapes. There’s also a bit of a nod to Abel Ferrera’s ‘Body Snatchers’ as Ruth awakes each morning to find that she’s drenched in a supernatural slime, one of several undesirable takeaways from her sexual indiscretion.
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Despite the film’s artistic venture into moody psychosomatic lapses of undefined uneasiness, it remains a casually romantic, quirky bit of “horror-lite” with just a touch of humor when a deeper exploration of the genre might have produced a more interesting result…though there is something to be said for the “less is more” mentality. Ruth’s disappearance begins even before her spiritual screw, and it goes to show that people often start to fade long before they’re actually ready to cross over to the other side. There’s undoubtedly a relatability to her character, and perhaps that in itself is the truly frightening aspect of this story. The intimacy of the camera places the viewer alongside the characters and their secrets. The bobbing movement, cozy closeness and the re-focusing of the lens reads like looking through a pair of hidden eyes privy to otherwise private moments. The score is also an attribute to its hipster yet off-kilter vibe, which feels fresh to the horror scene.
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The inexplicable title, LACE CRATER might as well translate as, “delicate, beautiful hole” because while there’s nothing to really indicate its meaning, there is a certain wistful emptiness that thematically runs deep in its veins. Though there are stronger, more uniquely challenging films that explore the idea of paranormal sexual encounters with greater unwavering bravado and expertise (Cat People, Possession, The Shining, Kuroneko, Videodrome, even American Horror Story: Season I for example), LACE CRATER still supplies its own take on a provocative concept that deeply resonates through the fear of mundane loneliness and out of touch sadness. 6/10
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