Deadly Intent, 2016.
Directed by Rebekah Fortune
Starring Gus Barry, Rebecca Reaney, Lara Lemon, and Peter Lloyd.
Widowed mother Bryony is struggling to move on from the death of her husband Steven, a process made all the more difficult by her troubled son James, who seems to be constantly lashing out. However, when they move in with Bryony’s sister Lisa for a time following another one of James supposed misdeeds,it appears that the family are in fact being haunted by a spirit who might just be that of the boy’s late father, and appears to have malicious plans in store involving his son.
Grief is a powerful emotion that we’ll all feel a few times in our lives. We feel it when someone we love dies, we feel it when our team gets beaten at the football, and I imagine right now many Americans are feeling it, especially they seem to have elected a fuzzy sentient squashed pumpkin to the highest office.
I bring this up to set the stage for the subject of today’s review, the supernatural indie horror Deadly Intent, a film that attempts to channel this powerful and difficult emotion into an effective and scary viewing experience, but despite its best efforts, fails where other films excelled.
The acting from the film’s relatively small cast is fine throughout. In the leading role as Bryony, Rebecca Reaney gives a fine performance as a grief-stricken mother trying desperately to connect with her son and deal with the loss of her husband. Although the character becomes incredibly irritating at times, such as when she’s scolding her son for his supposed misbehaviour, even when it’s clearly obvious that he hasn’t actually done anything. It gets to the point where it feels like that if you showed her footage of the Hindenburg disaster, she would probably blame that on her son as well.
In the supporting role as Bryony’s sister Lisa, Lara Lemon (don’t you love alliteration) also turns in a solid performance, providing some much-needed relief in this otherwise dreary story. Her fine performance also helps to make the character likeable, being the only one who believes her nephew to be innocent of his supposed misdeeds and is quick to defend him when his mother blames him for things.
Even the child actor of the film Gus Barry turns in a fine performance as James, managing to avoid every bad child actor cliché in the book, and with his character managing to elicit a good deal sympathetic as he constantly has to endure his mother’s wrath seemingly every five minutes.
The films’ plot is nothing spectacularly original, mainly being the family being haunted by the spirit of a recently dead loved one who seems mightily pissed off that his relatives are trying to move on without them. Although, the film does very much remind you of other films with similar plots, for me it reminded me very much of The Babadook (2014), having very much the same sort of set up of a mother and son struggling with grief and their troubled relationship as a result. I’m not accusing the film of being a knockoff, but it does demonstrate that where The Babadook succeeds in building tension and sympathy for the characters, this film struggles to achieve the same effect.
Littered throughout the film are flashbacks to Steven when he was alive, and the events that led up to his untimely death, and it’s this part of the film’s story which I feel goes down a somewhat questionable path to explain the motivations of the supposed villain.
The character of Steven is a soldier that served in Afghanistan and throughout these flashbacks we see tragic toll that the war took his mind. With his trauma causing him to lash out violently and become abusive to his wife, it ultimately leads to him almost committing a horrific act against his son, an act which he is unable to commit before his death. This unfinished business leads him to haunt his son and try to “finish the job” as it were, and this seems to serve as his motivation throughout.
I feel that this motivation is questionable as, and this is just my interpretation, it seems to suggest that Steven’s trauma from the war turned him into an evil person, which is a very questionable way of giving a character his motivation. Lots of soldiers have come back from various wars over the years mentally scarred, and some do become very different people from their usual selves, and some, unfortunately, might become violent. But while we don’t condone such violent actions, we can still understand that this is an unfortunate side effect that being in a traumatic situation a can have on people, and the blame should not be placed entirely on the individual.
The point I’m trying to make is that if someone wants to the issue of post-traumatic stress as a plot device for a film, horror or otherwise, it has to be treated with the utmost delicacy, so it doesn’t seem forced, tasteless or half-hearted. With this film I feel it doesn’t treat it carefully enough, we have one moment in which Steven violently lashed out, and realises the error of his way and apologises. But various other flashbacks make him seem like a violent bully, not worthy of sympathy.
In closing, Deadly Intent is not a terrible film, but it’s not a good film either, sitting firmly in the realm of mediocre. Those looking for a slow burn horror might find something to like about the film and the acting throughout is solid, and the film’s presentation is adequate.
But if you want a better film that tackles the same issues I would recommend checking out The Babadook, which covers the issue of grief and mothers and sons in a far more delicate and scary fashion.
I find the film’s attempts to use the issue of PTSD as a plot device somewhat novel, but misguided and poorly handled; it could have simply left it out and it would have been better for it.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★