Rows (2015) ***
D: David W. Warfield
C: Hannah Schick, Lauren Lakis, Nancy Murray, Kenneth Hughes, Joe Basile
Plot Synopsis: After delivering an eviction notice to a mysterious squatter, a young woman is abducted and put under a spell. She awakes to find herself trapped in a cycle of murder, paranoia, and strange encounters, as she tries to break the spell and save her loved ones.
Review: On the surface, there's a lot to like about Rows. It's well made, well acted. On the cast front, you have Nancy Murray. She embodies the idea of being an outsider, a possible witch without it being an overtly obvious take on this type of character. Usually, most films will resort to over the top costuming or wig work to sell you on the idea of this character being a possible witch. Here, Murray looks creepy enough, but still looks like the type of person that could live in the real world, the type of person that kids might whisper about being a witch, but don't have conclusive evidence that proves it.
There's co-star Lauren Lakis. She has an edgy on screen presence. That presence has been channeled into a more commercially accessible film that could be a potential breakout role. What makes her casting a standout is that she's dressed & styled in a way that screams small town Americana, yet her demeanor suggests that she's ready to bust out of this small town, to the big city. Anyone that's lived in a small town has known a few people in their lifetime that embody idea.
On the production value side, you have the principal location of an old farm house that figures predominantly in the proceedings. It evokes fear, tension & apprehension without being photographed in a way that screams "Hey! Look! Creepy old house!". The house has traits that we associate with horror, but it also has beauty. That's one of the things that a lot of genre filmmakers seem to forget is that these old houses are scary, but they also have elements of elegance & allure. Credit goes to veteran editor Scott Chestnut (Joy Ride) making his cinematography debut.
However, what gives Rows that extra something is the story itself. However, I'm not going to talk about the story, because the less you know going in, the more rewarding the overall experience. Rows has the type of plot that reveals itself layer by layer over the course of 84 minutes. This approach gives it an engaging quality as viewers piece together what's happening and see how the pieces fall into place.
A lot of films are guilty of spelling out the entire story within the first act or, even worse, the opening sequence. As a result, there's nowhere left to go until they arrive at some kind of arbitrary ending. Rows avoids that mistake by presenting its story as a puzzle that has to be assembled and figured out by the audience.
Rows is a first rate genre film in that they've put together believable characters, in believable settings with a director who has shown skill in putting it altogether. Rows is one of the standout horror films of 2015. [Not Rated] 84 minutes.
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