[TIFF Review] ‘The Crescent’ is Twisty and Nightmarish

[TIFF Review] ‘The Crescent’ is Twisty and Nightmarish

The trailer for The Crescent is a little deceiving: there’s both a lot more and a lot less going on in the film. The opening scenes quickly establish that Beth (Danika Vandersteen) is a recent widow who is not processing her grief well. She’s distant and a little vacant, an absent mother to her young son Lowen (Woodrow Graves) until Beth’s mother suggests a vacation at the family’s summer house on an isolated stretch of beach.

In essence, The Crescent is a two person show. Long stretches of time are dedicated to Beth’s efforts to reconnect with Lowen: we watch the pair make meals, read stories at bed time and make trips to the beach. Beth is undeniably a good mother, though she does have a habit of losing Lowen, who frequently wanders off when something catches his eye. This is problematic considering that several of the locals, including creepy neighbor Joseph (Terrance Murray) and kindly young Sam (Britt Loder), have a keen interest in the boy. Over time The Crescent morphs from a domestic drama about a mother and her son to something far more insidious.

A significant contributor to the film’s creep factor is its location. Filmed on location in Nova Scotia, the beach and the water are a constant presence (characters regularly talk up its healing powers). In truth, however, The Crescent makes apt use of the summer home to create tension and fear. The house is a modern three story gothic monstrosity: a maze of Escher-esque staircases, winding hallways and hidden doorways. As the threat to Lowen’s safety escalates, the soundtrack and imagery evolve to match. The angry frenetic buzzing of the doorbell punctures their sleep every night, while moths, bugs, and the most feral-looking cat since Pet Semetary begin mysteriously appearing inside. Joseph, too, seems to have easy access to the home’s interior, even as his body appears to be decomposing into something crab-like. While Lowen remains unaffected, Beth begins experiencing lost time and visions, which director Seth A. Smith captures in a surreal, hallucinatory fashion that plays on the captivating paintings that Beth produces in her studio.

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The visual aesthetic of The Crescent is the film’s most defining feature. Smith frequently employs handheld cameras, lending the film a real-life intimacy, almost as though we’re watching home-videos. A series of Polaroids taken before Beth’s husband’s death play also play into this idea and several transitions – particularly after surreal moments of horror – are presented as hazy pictures that are literally framed onscreen.

The fixed location closely evokes The Others, Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby and just like those films, here the horror comes from an uncanny discomfort, an upending of the notions of normality and a descent into the abject. The most horrifying moment occurs when Beth is sidelined and young Lowen is left to fend for himself for what reads like two or three days. Watching a toddler wander around a home filled with broken glass, at risk of starvation, unable to open the door or call for help is genuinely upsetting. And that’s before an intruder appears in a scene that gave me flashbacks to one of Twin Peaks’ most horrifying moments.

Just to be clear: The Crescent won’t appeal to everyone. It dedicates a lot of time to everyday activities and features a toddler as one of its two leads, so audiences who don’t care for very young child actors will be frustrated at how much of the film rests on Lowen. Viewers who are fond of surreal horror, however, should definitely seek the film out – it’s twisty and nightmarish.