What a weird little movie this one was. And I mean in in the best possible way.
Its premise follows the same trope-y plot line many films of the genre do: creepy, lonely blue collar guy obsessed over girl way out of his league becomes her captor.
And then the predictable story gets turned on its head. It’s rare to see Dominic Monaghan play anything but a loveable teddy bear (or maybe it’s just been a while since I saw him in something other than the LOTR trilogy), and his performance as socially awkward, slightly unhinged stalker Seth was actually refreshing, not to mention impressive.
Seth works at a dog shelter and appear to be quite a compassionate and empathetic guy: he talks to all the dogs and even pets them as he makes his rounds to feed them, is terribly upset when the vet has to put one of them down.
He’s also quite inadequate when it comes to approaching a pretty girl. A chance encounter with a high school crush sparks the old flame, and he does his best to enhance his chances at scoring a date. This, of course, includes cyberstalking Holly, showing up at her place of work and following her around. Alas, Holly is blatantly uninterested. Rather than letting him down easy, her rebuffs are borderline rude, if not completely obnoxious, and this only seems to encourage Seth’s stalker antics more.
Eventually, he graduates from lovesick creeper to full-on psychopath, welding a cage in a dungeon-like structure beneath the kennels, and then breaking into her home so he can drug her and carry her to her new ‘home’.
So far, so good. And then the ‘fun’ begins. [spoiler alert] Conditioned to feel revulsion towards Seth and empathy for Holly’s plight, we are treated to a big surprise when Seth’s statements about how he’s “doing this for her” and “trying to save her” actually turn out to have a more solid basis than the usual ramblings of a sociopath. Holly is not as much a victim, but rather a sociopath herself.
There are carefully placed hints throughout the movie up until this point to suggest that the abducted Holly isn’t the sweet, innocent captive we tend to expect and sympathize with. Rather, she’s a merciless and calculating killer, who first got a taste for blood when she brutally murdered her best friend Claire over a boyfriend, and then continued to kill random strangers in gruesome ways. (Claire makes frequent appearances, both as Holly’s roommate before Seth kidnaps her, and during her imprisonment in the cage).
As the lines keep getting blurred between villain and victim, so does Seth’s own sense of reality. While he starts out with the clear intention of saving Holly and tries to maintain the upper hand, he gradually loses control as his murderous prisoner manipulates him into committing his first murder and then self-mutilation.
Sure, tricking the audience into shifting allegiances from the supposed victim to the villain of the story is nothing new, nor particularly original, but it’s definitely uncommon in movies of the horror genre, and makes for an exciting viewing experience. The movie is intense and suspenseful, the gore isn’t too off-putting, and the performances are actually pretty damn good.
Where the film slightly lets us down is in its conclusion, which becomes predictable ones you know what makes the lead characters tick. Still, it’s a good enough movie for what it is, and manages to both respect and deviate from the various genre cliches to make it fun to watch – if you’re into this kind of thing.