D: Olly Blackburn / 86m
Cast: Haley Bennett, Ashley Greene, Lucas Till, James Ransone, Chris Coy, Mike Seal, Lucius Falick, Mathew St Patrick, Erica Ash
Justine (Bennett) is a slightly nerdy college student who’s planning to spend Thanksgiving on campus as she can’t afford to get home for the holiday. Her boyfriend, Aaron (Till), tries to persuade her to come with him to stay with his family but she won’t accept his kindness. With only her friend, Nicole (Ash) and campus security guard Wayne (St Patrick) for company, Justine is looking forward to spending some time (largely) by herself. However, Nicole heads home too, leaving Justine (nearly) all alone.
When she goes out to get some supplies at a local gas station, she encounters a young woman (Greene) whose strange attitude and challenging manner Justine attempts to placate in order to avoid an ugly encounter with the gas station attendant. With her offer rebuffed, Justine voices her disappointment at not being able to just help someone. The young woman rounds on her and tells her she’s the “Kristy”. Later, on her way back to the campus, the young woman uses her car to block Justine’s, but Justine gets past her. She tells Wayne what’s happened and although he’s sure nothing worse will happen, Justine isn’t so sure.
It isn’t long before she’s proven right. The young woman appears in her room carrying a knife. Justine gets past her but soon learns the young woman isn’t alone: she has three male accomplices, all wearing tin foil masks and hoodies, and all carrying weapons. A game of cat and mouse begins between Justine and the intruders. Wayne is murdered and Justine is forced to run from building to building in an attempt to avoid being killed as well. Even when she seeks help from the campus maintenance man, Scott (Ransone), who has a shotgun, the intruders outsmart him and Justine is left to fend for herself once again. She must use every ounce of ingenuity she has to outwit the intruders and stay alive…
With its mix of Halloween (1978), The Shining (1980) and every school-based slasher movie ever released, Kristy could be accused of being derivative and unimaginative. But in the hands of director Blackburn and writer Anthony Jaswinski, the movie is strong on atmosphere, as tense as barbed wire, and features some sterling, predatory camerawork thanks to DoP Crille Forsberg. It’s an impressively mounted picture as well, the university environs – in particular, the swimming pool – put to very good use, the wide open spaces of the grounds proving just as claustrophobic as the interiors, Justine’s attempts at hiding or escape placed against a pitiless, unremarkable background of beiges and off-whites.
It’s a very measured, well-constructed mise-en-scene that benefits from Blackburn’s close attention to detail, validating his decision to combine tightly framed shots with wider, equally threatening compositions that add immeasurably to the sense of unease the movie displays from the first moment an overhead light begins to flicker in the dorm’s laundry room. But while there’s a sure hand behind the camera, in front of it there’s a commanding performance from Bennett, her slightly geeky, girl-next-door looks and demeanour explored with effortless simplicity in the opening twenty minutes, from her interaction with Aaron to a deceptively effective montage of her activities once everyone’s left. Justine is instantly likeable, the kind of young woman who makes you smile from the off. Bennett invests her with a goofy charm, and while she spends the middle third running from the intruders, once Justine decides to take the hunt to them instead, she applies a calculating side of her character that comes across as entirely natural (it’s less the worm turning, more the worm realising she’s actually more than a match for her tormentors).
As the unreasoning, psychotic leader of a cell that’s part of a wider, Internet-based cult, Greene is hidden for the most part under a pink-tinged hoodie, only her facial piercings and chapped lips allowed any prominence. She gives an angry, embittered performance, her coiled physicality threatening to erupt at any moment, making her the most unpredictable character of all; you watch her to see just what she’ll do next. As her homicidal accomplices, Messrs Coy, Seal and Falick are hidden behind their masks but their presences are felt even when they’re off screen (Kristy is one of those movies where the viewer can’t quite be sure that one or more of them won’t just pop into view when it’s least expected).
There is violence throughout, from an opening montage of video clips of the cell’s other victims (which are posted on the Internet for other cult members to “enjoy”), to the outcome of Justine’s showdown with the young woman, but there is very little actual bloodshed, and Blackburn wisely avoids the kind of brutality that would have taken Kristy down the torture-porn route. Instead, and aside from one crowd-pleasing contact blow that is entirely justified, each kill is rendered out-of-shot and with an emphasis on good old-fashioned sound effects. In fact, the sound mix is one of the most effective aspects of the movie (take a bow, Michael B. Koff), particularly when the intruders are stalking Justine through the kitchens, their knives and weapons scraping against the fixtures and walls with hideous potency.
As mentioned above, the movie is indebted to several other horror outings, and while there will be those who won’t see beyond those influences, and will see deliberate moments taken from those movies – the fate of one character is lifted wholesale from Kubrick’s masterpiece – any naysayers will be missing the efficiency and verve that Blackburn et al. have employed to make these staple ingredients appear fresh and invigorated. It’s very difficult these days to come up with something new in the horror arena, and while the thriller elements are pushed to the fore here, this variation on the home invasion sub-genre is refreshingly presented and, one unnecessary post-end credits sequence aside, belies its derivative nature to provide a riveting viewing experience.
Rating: 8/10 – unnerving, gripping and rewarding in equal measure, Kristy is a step up from other movies of a similar nature, and treats its audience accordingly; with clear intelligence at work both behind and in front of the camera this is one horror/thriller that really does deserve a wider audience.