Starring James Caan, Logan Miller, Keir Gilchrist
Directed by Kasra Farahani
There seemed to be a prevalent theme of intrusion and surveillance in a few of the darker SXSW Film Festival Midnighter and Narrative Feature entires this year; we have already covered two films from the festival that involve interesting and brutal twists on the home invasion subgenre (see my Don’t Breathe and Hush reviews), and there were a few others that utilized technology in ways that ultimately grow dangerous. Kasra Farahani’s directorial debut The Waiting aims to incorporate many of these elements in more toned down ways, and while it certainly plays with dark genre tropes, it is ultimately a character-driven story of tragedy.
The film follows teenagers Ethan (Miller, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse) and Sean (Gilchrist, It Follows) who, at the insistence of the naively reckless Ethan, decide to run an experiment on their crotchety neighbor Harold Grainey (Caan). They break into his home and rig a number of structurally based scare traps in an effort to fake a progressively invasive haunting, all the while watching his reactions via hidden surveillance cameras. Ethan insists that the goal of the experiment is to document how one can be convinced of the existence of supernatural entities, but as the mysterious Grainey’s behavior begins to grow far more erratic than ever expected, Sean becomes concerned that perhaps they are taking the experiment too far — and ultimately, he is right.
I must reiterate that The Waiting is most definitely not a horror film when all is said and done, but it does borrow tonally from Hitchcock by way of melding drama and suspense (think Rear Window). Farahani crafts a progressively tense story through a mix of found footage and a few stylistic variations on traditional film, and his seamless handling of these mediums is one of the most immediately striking aspects of the film. Moving back and forth between a courtroom setting in the present and the events of the experiment that led to an undisclosed tragedy, the director remains focused on his characters so effectively that you might even forget that so many varying filming techniques are being utilized here. His stylistic fluidity and deft sense of tension and tone here are even more laudable when considering his first time helmer status.
Miller and Gilchrist — who are close friends in real life — do a terrific job of conveying the youthful enthusiasm that fuel Ethan and Sean’s project; foolish, but charming Ethan is admittedly seeking viral fame, while the bookish Sean is elated by the chance to finally be a part of the in-crowd. Though their motivations are simple on the surface, Farahani and screenwriters Mark Bianculli and Jeff Richard work well to also capture the underlying complexity of their latent angst and emotionally-fueled reasoning. The script highlights the boys’ very believable Millennial naiveté, though an extended focus on their conversational dialogue and foolhardy rationale in dire times may ultimately frustrate many viewers. I personally really appreciated the authentic approach to these characters in speech and behavior though, as irksome as it can become at times.
Playing in stark opposition to the younger cast members, Caan’s Grainey shines through silence. He is conveyed at different points as mysterious, dangerous, and misunderstood — depending on which lens we are viewing him through, of course. Caan has limited dialogue in the film, but that does not stop him from turning in an impressively nuanced and versatile performance. An actor of longstanding depth, he dually elicits fear and sympathy through a few subtle expressions and gestures; his presence is absolutely booming even in the film’s more restrained moments.
Though The Waiting‘s tragedy may play out in a predictable fashion for some, it is not any less heartbreaking when all is said and done. Without spoiling anything, I will also say that the film’s final frames are quite powerful in the context of the greater conversation the film seeks to spark. Now more than ever, technology and the desire for visibility crucially intermingle with the complex stages of adolescent psychological development of teens in modern society; for all of their irrationality and misguidedness, Sean and Ethan could very easily be your neighbors kids with too much freedom and far too much technology at their disposal. At its most effective, Farahani’s film sheds a light on how plausible a scenario like this actually is these days if the relationship between these contributing factors goes unchecked.
As a genre film — of which is only marginally classifies — The Waiting is not going to thrill many in an outright way. However, it is a film that is extremely smart in its statements about modern emotional disjointedness and how technology can (frighteningly) contribute to this chronic issue. Upheld by some very interesting psychological notions, it is also a remarkably authentic look at emotional development and beliefs. For those who can appreciate a well-made and finely acted drama punctuated by some wonderful suspense sequences, The Waiting is a commendably crafted story that will not disappoint.