The debut of writer-director Bryan Bertino is a lowbrow (and low-blow) Funny Games, “inspired by true events,” centered on a romantically rocky young couple (so, don’t feel too bad for them, Liv Tyler, Scott Speedman: they were miserable already) terrorized by ghostly now-you-see-them-now-you-don’t masked intruders at an isolated summerhouse. The grim outcome, as compared to that of Funny Games, is more blatantly signalled in a printed prologue (“The brutal events that took place there are still not entirely known”) as well as in the flashback structure (preludial 911 call: “There’s blood everywhere!”); and the assault on the viewer’s nerves, even though slow to get started (the camera has the jitters well in advance), is more blunt and aggressive, if less potent and lingering. Inasmuch as the ghostly terrorizers are not actual ghosts, their ghostlike behavior raises the issue of their self-conscious mummery. Actual ghosts would be easier to believe, not to mention easier to stomach. (2008) — Duncan Shepherd
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