Two suburban teens set out to test a thesis: can you convince someone they are being haunted? The boys’ initial fun, entertaining plot quickly takes a turn for the mysterious, and expectedly fatal. As a self-described thriller, The Waiting fails to evoke true fright from the audience. None-the-less, the film presents an entertaining, suspenseful story which constantly challenges the viewer on who to root for.
High school best friends Ethan (Logan Miller) and Sean (Keir Gilchrist) decide to conduct an experiment at the sake of their elderly, disliked neighbor Mr. Grainey (James Caan). Through secretly bugging his house and videoing his every move the boys are able to set off a series of “haunts” that rival the events seen in the likings of Paranormal Activity.
The first hour or so, is mainly a reflection of the title as the boys wait to see their “crazy, psycho-hermit” neighbor’s reactions to their haunts. Opening and closing doors, cracking glass and triggering loud sleep-disrupting noises are only a few of the ghostly disturbances they inflict on Grainey. To the boys’ surprise, and later frustration, Grainey remains passive and resigned to everything.
The boys become inebriated within a God complex by their ability to control someone’s life without physical altercation. While sociopathic Ethan wants to continue to push the envelope, Sean shows some concern about the irreversible effect their ploy could have on Grainey. The Waiting becomes a game of the audience deciding between the lesser of two evils. Two boys are purposefully torturing their old neighbor, but viewers have been told he’s a wife-beating, drunk. So, who cares? Who’s at fault?
Waiting for something major to happen for two-thirds of the film could definitely deter viewers, but writers Mark Bianculli and Jeff Richards break up the monotony with the boys staging different haunts. Suspense continues to build as the old man continually disappears into his basement, which in a perfectly cliché manner is the only place in the house without surveillance. Ethan, Sean and the audience are left racking their brains on what he could be hiding down there; assumingly something murderous.
Directed by Kasra Farahani, the film was released at the 2016 SXSW Festival. Farahani’s stylistic choices keep the audience interested. The majority of the scenes during the planning and execution of the experiment are actually placed in the past. Reality comes into check as the film cuts back and forth to a trial. Shots of a bloody carpet, gun, etc., hints at a dark ending.
The idea of multidimensionality continues with the choices in cinematography. The entire movie is essentially shot within Ethan’s house, or better yet his bedroom, and Grainey’s home. Shots jump between spy cameras and self documented footage with a DSLR. The most valuable scenes come when the audience is introduced to Grainey’s past and his life at home.
Caan’s performance brings the film to another level. The plot is interesting enough, but through minimal dialogue Caan is able to evoke loneliness and fear, yet also remained relatively unmoved by the haunts. His character comes full circle at the end of the film, when the scenes from his past the audience were introduced to throughout previously are built upon and explain his character.
After its premiere at SXSW, The Waiting received a variety of reviews. Many critics’ views agree with my own that the film’s big reward comes at the end. However, everyone failed to identify the films obvious ode to societal events like the Columbine. It echoes what happened behind the scenes of the fatal high school shooting. One sadistic, evil teenager manipulates a smart, kind but desperately friendless boy to carry out a bizarre revenge plot. Ethan’s sociopathic tendencies are put to the test as he becomes drunk off power and frustrated with Grainey’s inability to scare from the events. It’s scary to watch Ethan so easily convince Sean to not only follow along with his idea, but believe he wants to be a part of it.
The film doesn’t work as a thriller, or a serious drama, which viewers who attend this movie expecting so will be confused and left frustrated. Outside the context of which the film was marketed, The Waiting works as an indie film working with a variety of complex emotions. The teen’s dialogue made me laugh, Caan taking an axe to a door made me grab my seat in fright and a shocking revelation at the end made me cry from heart break.
Despite the film’s debatably dry waiting period and inability to scare off the majority of viewers, Caan’s performance and the final act of the film make The Waiting worth your time.
Director: Kasra Farahani
Writer: Mark Bianculli, Jeff Richards
Producer: Trevor White, Tim White, Allan Mandelbaum, Giri Tharan, Rosalie Swedlin, Elana Barry
Cast: James Caan, Logan Miller, Keir Gilchrist
Running Time: 98 min