Monday, September 10, 2018

Movie Review: The Keeping Hours

The Keeping Hours *** / *****
Directed by: Karen Moncrieff.
Written by: Rebecca Sonnenshine.
Starring: Carrie Coon (Elizabeth), Lee Pace (Mark), Amy Smart (Amy), Sander Thomas (Jacob), Julian LaTourelle (Dash), Christina Vidal (Gwen).
 
If I told you that The Keeping Hours is about a divorced couple who start seeing their dead son at the house they once shared, you’d be forgiven for thinking the film is a horror film. The film certainly uses horror elements, especially early in the proceedings, to hook the audience, and draw them in – and continues to use a mystery element that fills you with unease throughout. Yet, The Keeping Hours isn’t really a horror film – it’s rather a low-key drama about death and grief, and eventually moving forward. For the first hour or so, the movie had me – it worked. Once it starts to reveal its secrets, and slides towards sentimentality in the last act, it lost me a little.
 
The film opens with a wedding between Elizabeth (Carrie Coon) and Mark (Lee Pace) – although it’s hardly the start of their relationship, as they already have a five-year-old, Jacob (Sander Thomas) together. This small family unit seems well-suited to each other – tight knit and loving. A flash forward by seven years shows just how far they have fallen. Jacob died and Elizabeth and Mark are now divorced – she’s written a bestselling book about overcoming grief, and he’s thrown himself into his work as a lawyer, and is clearly completely miserable. He has to return to the house the family shared – he hasn’t lived there in years – when the most recent tenants trashed the place, and skipped out on the rent. It’s there, late one night, that he first sees Jacob again. He reaches out to Elizabeth for the first time in a while, and eventually she comes to the house, and starts seeing Jacob as well. Even though a Medium, Gwen (Christina Vidal), who Mark just happens to meet, tells him that he needs to figure out what Jacob wants, so he can be sent back because he doesn’t belong here, the couple don’t listen. Inside that house, they have back what they lost – and they start to grow closer to each other again.
 
The movie certainly uses horror movie elements to hook you early – the Jacob’s first appearance is given the whole exploding light bulb treatment, there is the wise warnings from a medium, and some strange moments where the couple overhears Jacob talking to someone – about not wanting to go back yet – but director Karen Moncrieff isn’t really interested in those elements, except as a, little mystery to keep the story progressing. She’s far more interested in this couple.
 
Both Coon and Pace are terrific actors – too good to be honest to be in a movie like this, which is more than a little hackneyed and sentimental. And yet, in their hands, these characters feel more real than they probably should, and they have an easy chemistry together. They sell the movie even as it becomes increasingly clich├ęd. They’re the reason to see the film.
 
As for director Moncrieff, she is a filmmaker I liked earlier in her career – her debut film Blue Car (2002), about a relationship between an older male professor and a younger female student is more clear eyed about those sorts of relationships than most are, and here follow-up The Dead Girl (2006) is even better – and has taken on added resonance, as the dead girl of the title was played by Brittany Murphy. She does seem to be one of those talented female directors who had to move into TV for the most part in the last decade – and that’s a real shame. She handles this material as well as can be expected. Between her contributions, and those of Pace and Coon they take what should probably be a much worse film, and turn it into something decent.

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