When I first heard about Stephanie, after the movie showed at a few American festival in the end of 2017, I thought it would have been similar to Mama (2014), Blumhouse-style, i.e. filled with unnecessary jump-scares, PG13 and aimed to a young and not too demanding audience.
Instead, Stephanie is really something else: released worldwide straight to video – quite an unusual choice by Blumhouse – on the 17th of April, the movie follows Stephanie (unsurprisingly, I’d say), a young girl who lives in a big house, apparently after being abandoned by her parents. It’s clear from the very beginning that she’s not alone in there – her toy turtle Francis is, in fact, not the only other presence in the house.
If you’re thinking about the usual thirteen in a dozen haunted house flick, think again. Stephanie features a plotline like nothing you’ve seen before, thus I don’t want to go too much into the story, since I highly suggest you check this horror movie out knowing very little about it.
As I just said, Stephanie captured my attention from the get-go thanks to its originality – it was written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski (who also wrote Super Dark Times). However, the history of cinema is filled with films that, albeit unconventional, fell flat because of their poor or subpar execution.
Here, instead, the presentation of the story is outstanding: Stephanie builds up a mystery that unfolds scene by scene, clue after clue. Very close to a complicated puzzle, this film never disrespects nor cheats on the audience: nothing is told by lame exposition scenes and, at the end, all the pieces come together. It’s a movie that requires your attention to details, all the while being quite scary and freaky in a very traditional way – shadows appearing behind the titular Stephanie, doors closing suddenly, eerie noises during the night and so on.
This combination between conventional tropes – always played in a very effective way though – and original concept and execution should make Stephanie enjoyable for any horror fan.
Besides, I found extremely impressive how Shree Crooks (who plays the titular Stephanie and is only 13 years old) carries the movie on her young shoulders for the most part, being the only character on screen for 30 minutes or so. Sometimes we tend to justify bad acting from child actors, but here it’s not necessary: Crooks is a hurricane, she gives a solid performance that feels sincere, scary, dramatic, sad and everything in between. Kudos!
The other two cast members that are introduced at one point are Anna Torv (whose character is intentionally not very likeable) and Frank Grillo (The Purge 2 and 3) and they both provide solid performances in their own way.
Yet, with a small cast, secluded locations and a quite basic but enthralling cinematography, Stephanie feels like a “smaller than life” kind of movie, which plays out very well in contrast to something that’s happening, within the movie, in a much larger scale.
This contrast works perfectly until the pay-off, which is probably my biggest flaw with the movie: it really feels out of place, in my opinion.
Since I’m talking about the flawed aspects of Stephanie, I should also mention that a couple of dream-sequences – most likely forced in the script by Blumhouse Production – can be really annoying and feel rather cheap. The CGI, fortunately utilised only two times, also appears already fake and dated.
Besides that, this is a great mystery-driven horror movie, which is gratefully rated R and features a few violent and brutal sequences that only enhance the impact of the experience. First time director Akiva Goldsman, who wrote the script for A Beautiful Mind (2001), proves himself capable of writing a solid screenplay but also great at developing it into a coherent and effective presentation.
On a side note, I find very sad that Blumhouse prefer to throw out in theatres average horror flicks (a la Ouija, 2014) rather than giving the same chance to a film that’s definitely more challenging than the average cookie cutter Hollywood horror flick.
This is one more reason for me to strongly recommend you to download and buy Stephanie (DVD and Blu-Ray will be available from the 1st of May): a great horror movie that will most likely please you.
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My review is also available on IMDb – Stephanie
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