Vermont-Shot Horror Film ‘The Luring’ Offers Psychological Chills | Movie+TV Reviews | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

On Screen » Movie+TV Reviews

Vermont-Shot Horror Film ‘The Luring’ Offers Psychological Chills


Published June 12, 2024 at 10:00 a.m.

A young man gets more than he bargained for when he comes to Vermont to recover a memory in this locally shot horror indie. - COURTESY OF CHRISTOPHER WELLS
  • Courtesy Of Christopher Wells
  • A young man gets more than he bargained for when he comes to Vermont to recover a memory in this locally shot horror indie.

Filmmaker Christopher Wells is a Long Island native and current Brooklyn resident, but he has "deep roots" in Vermont, he said. His late father was St. Johnsbury artist Roderick A. Wells, to whose life and work Christopher devoted a 2016 documentary.

Now the elder Wells' "romantic realist" paintings can be seen in The Luring, a horror film his son shot in St. Johnsbury and Lyndonville in 2017, which is available to rent or buy on Prime Video. Their pastoral scenes offer an ironic counterpoint to its unsettling plot twists.

Most of The Luring was shot during mud season in a home that Wells' mother had just sold, the director said, so keeping the place clean was a priority. A slasher film was out of the question.

"Since I couldn't risk messing up my mother's house with fake blood," Wells writes in a press release, "I wrote a script that would disturb me instead." In a 2017 interview with Luke Baynes for Seven Days, he said, "I wanted to make a film that was unpredictable and had character development ... I'm kind of over the whole jump-scare thing."

As a horror fan eager for novelty, I watched the film to see if Wells could make good on that promise.

The deal

The Luring does feature some familiar aspects of the horror genre, such as a chilling opening sequence that would work as a self-contained short. The world's creepiest real estate agent ("Boardwalk Empire" actor Daniel Martin Berkey) shows a couple around a rustic house, eventually disclosing to them that a 10-year-old died by suicide in its basement during a birthday party. Meanwhile, their young son explores that very basement. A mysterious red balloon leads him to a dire fate.

While many horror filmmakers observe an unwritten rule against killing off kid characters, Wells defies that taboo (multiple times) to explore an evergreen theme of childhood cruelty. What happened at the ill-fated party is a mystery to birthday boy Garrett (Rick Irwin), the film's protagonist, now a self-involved young man who has lost his memory of the tragic incident. When we meet him, slightly before the time frame of the prologue, he's bringing his girlfriend, Claire (Michaela Sprague), to his family's Vermont vacation home, hoping to recover the lost piece of his life.

What Garrett doesn't tell Claire is that he's actually less eager to revisit his memories than he is to hook up with a mysterious local (Molly Fahey) he met on Facebook. It's she who does the luring of the title, sending him teasing missives that hint at a desire to punish him.

The woman's letters are in rhyming doggerel, as is most of her dialogue when she shows up to tempt Garrett in person, dressed like a Hot Topic version of a dominatrix. But none of that — or her stiff delivery — stops Garrett from becoming ruinously obsessed with her. Soon he's slipping away to inhale the mystery woman's letters in the basement and picking fights with Claire, attacking her for having the audacity to enthuse over the beauty of the Vermont landscape.

Will you like it?

Low-budget filmmaking is never easy. Wells shows a solid sense for the rhythms of horror, an instinct for what to show viewers when. He crafts some disturbing sequences, especially the ones involving that rogue birthday balloon, a callback to the inadvertently creepy 1956 children's short "The Red Balloon."

That's not the only film history homage in The Luring. Like Jack Torrance in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, Garrett is a singularly unpleasant protagonist whom supernatural forces appear to be grooming to become even more unpleasant. When Garrett meets a "Stranger" (Berkey again) who encourages him to graduate from misogynist callousness to full-blown violence, Wells washes the two of them in hellish red light, and every horror fan will catch the reference. Instead of the Overlook Hotel, however, this demonic seduction takes place in such innocuous locales as St. Johnsbury's Kingdom Taproom and Lowell's Missisquoi Lanes.

It's a great premise. The problem is that Irwin's Garrett isn't entertainingly evil, just sort of mean and whiny (call him the hipster Torrance). And Sprague's Claire isn't a fleshed-out woman fighting for her life, like Shelley Duvall's Wendy, but an oppressively cheery, weirdly oblivious sprite. The lead actors have a tendency to telegraph their emotions that drags down the film. Berkey and Henry Gagliardi (as the younger Garrett) give more subtly sinister performances, but they can't outweigh the broader ones at the movie's center.

I generally don't review low-budget films when I can't endorse them whole-heartedly, because I know their creators are already struggling to get them seen. But The Luring is enough of a novelty among locally shot films to deserve notice. Wells takes risks with his storytelling, and at least two shots will stick with me, one of them a bizarrely Vermonty WTF moment. If that prospect lures you, give it a try.

If you like this, try...

Silence & Darkness (2019; Freevee, Tubi, rentable): Shot in the Mad River Valley, this indie from New York director Barak Barkan resembles The Luring in using a single residential location to eerie effect, though it's in an artier vein.

Black Bear (2020; Kanopy, rentable): Another shiver-inducing example of single-location intimacy is this drama starring Aubrey Plaza as a filmmaker who proves to be an extremely bad guest at a lake house.

We Are Still Here (2015; Peacock, PLEX, Prime, the Roku Channel, Tubi, rentable): There's a special art to shooting scary scenes in basements. Here's another effective low-budget example.

The original print version of this article was headlined "The Luring 3"



Comments are closed.

From 2014-2020, Seven Days allowed readers to comment on all stories posted on our website. While we've appreciated the suggestions and insights, right now Seven Days is prioritizing our core mission — producing high-quality, responsible local journalism — over moderating online debates between readers.

To criticize, correct or praise our reporting, please send us a letter to the editor or send us a tip. We’ll check it out and report the results.

Online comments may return when we have better tech tools for managing them. Thanks for reading.