This movie is bizarre. I think that's the best way I can begin to describe She Rises. With a story that covers well worn horror tropes and has a certain amount of self awareness to it, what begins as a classic, isolationist/psycho killer backdrop quickly descends into something maddening and just a little bit sleazy. With writing and cinematography that take on a sort of manic feeling that I normally wouldn't be able to sit through, in the context of the story that unfolds this scattered chaos becomes absolutely vital. A low budget, indie film created by some Hollywood vets, including Michael Biehn (Terminator, Aliens) is too strange to pass up. Let me explain.
Conor (Angus Macfayden) is that stereotypical actor past his prime. Classically trained but relegated to creating some schlocky B picture in the middle of nowhere, he starts out the film doing his best Brando impersonation, downing a bottle of vodka as he laments his career and his sexual appetite. Meanwhile, his director and partner Kat (Jennifer Blanc-Biehn) is busy navigating both Conor's drunken advances and the unlit backroads they've managed to end up driving. Finally reaching a point of utter hopelessness in their journey they come across a small house in the middle of the woods where a young girl named Rosebud (Daisy McCrackin) and her elderly "father" Daddy Longlegs (Michael Biehn) welcome them to spend the night until she can show them the way back to the highway in the morning. Drunk on cheap booze and the prospect of having some perverse fun with their naive host, Conor and Kat take the opportunity to "screen test" Rosebud in an attempt to seduce her. After all, you've got to make the best of a bad situation, right?
What neither of them is aware of is the fact that Rosebud is the one luring them into the trap. After putting them to bed in separate rooms, Rosebud joins Conor is his bedroom and begins to work her magic. As his mind begins to spin, his perceptions of reality warped by alcohol and the life draining force exuded by his host, he has visions, flashes of witches and succubi before falling into a bizarre dream. This is where things become a bit trippy and hard to follow so you have got to focus. He wakes into reenactments of Citizen Kane, Psycho, The Shining, and Hamlet all blended into this hyper sexualized vision inside his mind that finally ends in a gender swapped Rosemary's Baby riff. Meanwhile, Kat awakens and realizes that all is not well, discovering the truth that Rosebud is a soul stealing succubus intent on making the duo her next meal.
This was not your typical indie horror film. The story seemed to be more of a commentary on the state of art in modern cinema than it did a genuine horror flick. The story centered on a burnt out actor who was ready to give it all up because he was tired of simply regurgitating uninspired lines written by hacks; a director who had lost her passion and vision who could only see the project in front of her as a contract to be completed rather than art to be made. Making references to stars and pictures from the Golden Age of Hollywood as well as films that are regarded as true classics. Rosebud was the kryptonite, the draining force that sapped away the last bit of that hope and talent, that devoured youth and vitality until it was as withered and twisted as Daddy Longlegs himself. Even towards the end, as the film seems to make a complete 180 and become a horror movie featuring a crew making a horror movie about the horror movie you're watching (you catch all that?) it continues this commentary about the lack of artistic vision being seen in the mainstream. If I had one complaint, and I do, it would be that the makeup effects weren't highlighted as much as I would have liked to have seen. There is an old crone seen in flickering visions, her eyes bleeding as she cackles and I'd have loved to have gotten a good look at her beyond what was seen, to have her play a larger role in the movie than she did. That said, I understand the why as to the way she was shot. To me, being a growing fan of indie cinema, She Rises was a fun piece to watch and reflect on, even if the scares were superficial.
Who knows? Maybe I've missed the point entirely. Maybe like Poe (or Conor) it's all just a dream within a dream and I'm grasping at straws as I try to explain the plot. If you're looking for a movie that is going to scare you senseless and leave you hiding under the sheets, this isn't the piece for you. If you're looking for something unusual and at times thought provoking, you'll enjoy She Rises.
Dan Lee is a horror fiend and freelance writer with a special place in his heart for monster movies and demonic possession stories.