Starring Drew Matthews, Brooks Addis, Kathryn Alexander, and Morgan Carson
Written by Chelsey Cummings, Clayton Witmer
Directed by Clayton Witmer
You stare down into the open wound of a bloody deer carcass. You slowly realize that there is something scuttling about inside it. It has teeth. It’s staring back at you. This is the beginning of the end. This is Clayton Witmer’s The Arbors, a film that delivers the kind of emotionally charged horror we deserve in a post Hereditary era. While there is indeed a horrifying spider-like beast at the center of this story, the film is far from being a simple series of jump scares and death scenes. Witmer has delivered a surprising debut, a slow-burning Lovecraftian meditation on guilt, isolation, and the fear that we may never truly know one another (or ourselves for that matter).
Right from the first scene, we can tell there is something wrong with Ethan Duane (Drew Matthews). We watch as this socially out-of-touch locksmith makes one strange decision after another until he finds himself face to face with a bizarre creature on the side of the road. Rather than fleeing, he defies our expectations by capturing the creature and harboring it in his shed. The beast quickly escapes and begins a rampage that throws the town into a panicked witch-hunt for whatever or whoever is behind the havoc. Rather than going to the authorities with his firsthand account of the monster, Ethan further defies our expectations by remaining eerily silent about it all. His beloved hometown has fallen into chaos, but he seems increasingly lost in his unhealthy obsession with his past and his brother, Shane. Even as tragedy strikes, Ethans seems to worry far more about the amount of quality time he gets to spend with his brother than he does about the possible collapse of the town itself. As you might imagine, things only get darker from there.
It is an exciting thing to witness a new director and a team of relatively unknown actors bring such a brave effort to this strange story. The scenes don’t always succeed in escaping a sort of amateur feel but overall the dialogue is well written, and more importantly, well suited to each actor’s abilities. This approach showcases their strengths, allowing each one of them a chance to shine in complex situations that are a far cry from horror scenes that involve a few lines of screamed dialogue in the face of some hell-beast.
This brings us to the monster. Oh yes, there is a monster here that delivers some excitingly convincing mayhem that pleases even a viewer like me who has become jaded from watching far too many monster movies during the cabin fever months of COVID-19. The monster is used wisely and brought to life through a combination of techniques rather than leaning exclusively on CGI.
This is a complex, brooding film that deserves to move beyond the indie circuit to devour a wider audience.
A film where paranoia runs rampant in a setting that will make suburbanites shudder with recognition and city dwellers remember why they fled their small towns in the first place.