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Review: RJ Bland
High concept horror is not a particularly new concept. Films with outlandish, logic stretching ideas have been around ever since the inception of the genre. In fact, besides Sc-fi, horror flicks are probably the most suited to story idiosyncracy. However over the last few years it seems that audience appetite for these sorts of features has increased. Well, more seem to be getting made at least. In Countdown (2019) we had an app that tells you when you are going to die. In It Follows we had an antagonist that was always coming to get you and could take on the form of anyone it wants. And in Happy Death Day a girl relives the same day, over and over again, trying to figure out who is trying to kill her. However quite often, these films are vehicles to explore other themes and subjects. It Follows isn't really about the monster, it's about intimacy and sex. Get Out isn't about mind/body experiments, it's about racism in America. Natasha Kermani's Lucky, is another film that uses a rather batshit (but rather cool) concept to make some more serious points.
May (played by Brea Grant who wrote the script) is a self-help author who is exhausted from book signings and struggling to get her next book published. Her home life seems to be a little strained too – there is an obvious distance between May and her husband Ted. However these worries drop down a notch on her priority list when one evening a masked man breaks into her home and tries to kill her. She manages to fend him off and he flees but the ordeal is far from over. Her husband calmly informs her that this assailant tries to kill her every night and seems a little concerned at May's shock over this revelation. However it's not just her husband's behaviour that's worrying. Despite sort of accepting the fact that she has been attacked, pretty much everybody she encounters is rather nonplussed by this fact. The next evening, just as her husband promised, the intruder attacks her in her own home again. Although she again manages to fend him off, May begins to realise that this loop is going to keep repeating itself until she figures out what exactly is going on...
On the surface, Lucky looks as though it might be some sort of Happy Death Day/It Follows hybrid. A fun but unrelenting horror that has something a little bit more weighty at its core. However striking the right balance between these three elements is far from an easy task and although Lucky maintains some sort of equilibrium for a while, the further it goes on the more lopsided it becomes and by the end, the allegory has all but consumed the entirety of the feature.
Like a lot of high concept horror, most of the good stuff comes in the initial exploration of the mystery. Whilst the home invasion scenes are not overly terrifying themselves (in the world of slasher films anyway), the reactions of the people around her provide the most unsettling moments of the film. 'Honey that's the man. He comes every night to try and kill us', May's useless husband explains when the would-be-killer first turns up in their garden in the middle of the night. And when May challenges him the next morning over his nonchalance, he responds with 'Come on babe, get it together'. The acceptance of the situation and the indifference to it is the true horror of Lucky and a timely and smart analogy about the ordeal that female victims of abuse (and other wrongs) suffer.
There is not a problem in the message that is being made here (although some may have issues with how far-reaching it is in its latter stages). However, the way this commentary is delivered becomes problematic. Unfortunately, it becomes apparent what the film is getting at quite early on and from this point, the riddle that the film has posed from the outset is essentially solved. After this it feels as if we're treading water a little and any tension and scares are few and far between. The films that are most successful in getting their point across are ultimately the ones that are able to wrap it up in a story that satisfies as a moviegoing experience and Lucky flatters to deceive on that front. And whilst its central message in both valid and important, it is delivered with the subtlety of a sledgehammer – and that hammer strikes on a consistent and repetitive basis for the last half of the film. Does it get the underlying message across? Absolutely. But does it make for satisfying viewing? Not entirely.
From a technical perspective there is much to like. Brea Grant is an engaging lead who offers some grounding amongst the mind-bending plot. The script is a little on the nose in places but there is enough good stuff in there to show she's got something. Natasha Kermani manages to make something that is undeniably low-budget, feel bigger in scale and production values than it actually is. The surreal elements are all handled smartly from a visual point of view too – but ultimately the decision to make things a bit too literal in the last act will leave some frustrated by the time we're given the closing image.
Lucky explores a necessary subject and does so with real intent and thrust. However somewhere along the way the mystery and intrigue of the set up is lost amongst the social commentary.
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