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D: John R. Leonetti / 73m

Cast: Katie Cassidy, Elizabeth Henstridge, Adam Campbell, Miles Fisher, Lucas Adams, Spencer Daniels, Jane Kaczmarek, Chris Mulkey, Eric Ladin

Here on thedullwoodexperiment it’s often the case that a review will question why a movie was made in the first place. Sometimes it just seems incredible that no one – seriously, no one – saw how a movie was progressing during production and didn’t say anything along the lines of, “Hey guys, this isn’t really very good, shouldn’t we just call it quits and save ourselves the embarrassment?” With low-budget movies it’s a little more forgivable. Fewer resources and an inexperienced cast and crew should always be taken into consideration, even if the end result fails to meet any and all expectations; at least the movie makers have tried their best (and even if their best proves to be their worst). Good intentions can mean a lot.

But then there are movies that are made by established, world-renowned production companies such as New Line Cinema, and/or released by equally world-renowned distributors such as Warner Bros. These movies get a wider shot at audiences than those made by independents or first-timers, and have a wider chance of making their production costs back. But when you watch them, it’s like watching a movie where the least amount of thought and consideration has gone into them, from the script to the cinematography to the editing to the soundtrack to the acting to the directing to the whole tone of the thing. It’s like watching the movie version of a contractual obligation.

And so we have Wolves at the Door, the latest movie to fit the criteria listed above. Based on “true events”, the movie recounts what happened over two particular nights in Los Angeles in August 1969. First we witness the early morning home invasion of a couple (Kaczmarek, Mulkey) that results in the couple being frightened for their lives but suffering no actual physical harm. A detective (Ladin) tells them that there have been a lot of similar incidents recently, but that this is something different. Cue the next evening and four friends having dinner together. The quartet – eight months pregnant Sharon (Cassidy), and her friends, Jay (Fisher), and couple Abigail (Henstridge) and Wojciech (Campbell) – are commiserating over Abigail’s imminent trip to Boston. They head back to Sharon’s home, intending to continue their “commiserations”.

Another friend, Steven (Adams), is there too, but he’s spending more time with the property’s caretaker, William (Daniels), who lives in a separate building. When he parts company with William, Steven encounters a strange man and woman who stop him from leaving the estate. Meanwhile, Wojciech, upset by Abigail’s decision to move to Boston, decides to get some air. He too encounters the strangers. Inside, Jay settles on the sofa to watch TV while Sharon and Abigail begin to hear strange noises. At one point, they see a strange woman in the house. Though scared, they still attempt to find out why the woman is there, but soon they both realise that there’s more than just the one stranger, and that the four friends are all in danger.

If you made the effort you could watch Wolves at the Door without knowing anything about it; which would be a blessing of sorts. If you managed to avoid reading any reviews, or hearing any word of mouth reports, or even seeing the poster with its give-away tagline, then there’s a certain degree of intrigue that will attach itself to the viewing experience. You’d be asking yourself why is all this happening, and you’d also be waiting for the four friends to turn the table on their attackers and come out on top (after the requisite amount of violent reprisals and bloodshed). But this isn’t that kind of movie, and it’s that tagline that gives it all away. For yes, this isn’t based on “true events” in the sense that it takes something that happened and fashions a different story around those events. No, this is a movie that takes those events and purports to be a recreation of those events – mostly.

Putting aside the movie’s appropriation of the Tate murders for mild exploitation purposes, what is more distressing is the absence of any connection with the characters themselves, and especially as they’re based on real people. The movie leaves Sharon Tate and her friends with no discernible personalities, lets the cast behave like approximations of the people they’re portraying, and doesn’t even try to engage the audience’s sympathy for the terrible things that happen to them. The viewer can only watch, distant and uninvolved, as the Manson Family members terrorise and attack the four friends (and Steven), and keep their motives unexplained (until the movie’s coda). It could all be happening to any group of strangers, and again it’s odd that with the movie being based on “true events”, the producers have decided to adopt an approach that reduces the impact of real people being attacked and killed to that achieved by a below-average slasher movie.

It doesn’t help that Gary Dauberman’s script is uninterested in telling a coherent story in the first place. The story of the Tate murders is one that’s ripe for a powerful, impactful movie, but this plods along employing standard horror movie clichés and failing to provide any tension. Despite the short running time, there are still plenty of scenes that could be removed and not be missed thanks to Dauberman’s disjointed approach to structure, and the absence of any appreciable imagination. He also has a tin ear for dialogue, saddling the cast with the kind of lines that would defeat even the most inspired casting. In terms of the cast, Cassidy and Henstridge are the nominal stars, but they’re soon reduced to crying, hiding, running about and making stupid decisions without any regard for logic or credibility, while everyone else involved has to hope that their performances survive the arbitrary decisions made by director Leonetti and editor Ken Blackwell at the assembly stage.

As the director, John R. Leonetti reminds audiences why he’s better off in his regular day job as a cinematographer, but at the same time, leaves those same audiences perplexed by his encouraging the kind of dimly-lit, murky photography that leaves this movie looking so bland and unremarkable, and which adopts the same kind of predictable framing and shot construction that we’ve seen so many, many times before in the realm of low-budget horror. All of this adds up to a flat, generic, dull movie that someone should have pointed out wasn’t going to work however much everyone tried – because it doesn’t seem as if anyone was. So once again, audiences are left with a movie that doesn’t work, is beyond lacklustre, and which can’t even manage the energy to be at least partially interesting.

Rating: 2/10 – a movie that reinforces the idea that some projects are just exercises in going through the motions, Wolves at the Door takes a real life tragedy and makes it seem trivial in comparison; and as if that wasn’t bad enough, it’s just plain awful.

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