[Review] 'Stay Out of the Attic' Dusts Off Negative Tropes While Feeding Off the Weakness of the Other
Genre specific films such as science fiction and horror often find ways to resonate with audiences by pulling from historical fears...
...One such piece of history which appears again and again across all types of films is the Holocaust. If you are looking to create Oscar-bait, rely on Holocaust piety, (the act of depicting the tragedy as overly sentimental) and make sure the movie ends with a Christian person learning a lesson (survival of main Jewish character is optional). On the opposite side of the same coin, if the director, such as Jerren Launder, wants a more terrifying experience, then he will focus on the ultimate bad guys: Nazis. Nazis represent profound fears and unspeakable atrocities which allows the writers (Julie Auerbach, Jesse Federman, Jason Scott Goldberg, and Launder) and director to not hold back on the pain they inflict on their characters. In Stay Out of the Attic, Launder tries to capture the horror associated with the Holocaust, but in fact ends up creating an irresponsible representation of the true terrors.
The film begins when Second Chances moving company arrives at a massive house with Queen Anne style architecture. The title of the company comes from the ex-con/owner, Schillinger (Ryan Francis) wanting to turn over a new leaf. Aside from his new straight and narrow lifestyle he also employs former criminals (Morgan Alexandria as Imani and Bryce Fernelius as Carlos) and gives them an opportunity to improve their lives. Moving furniture is not glamorous but finding the right customer could provide a pretty sweet bonus. The owner of the house, Vern Mueller (Michael Flynn) wants a bit of a rush job but incentivizes the crew with four times their asking rate. Kind of a hard deal to pass up.
The location of the film sets the tension well as the large interior of the house creates an echoey assortment of rooms, yet makes the viewer feel a bit claustrophobic. Angels in the architecture and creepy busts of children put Carlos on edge and he expresses several times he cannot believe his first day of work brought him to a haunted house. As Vern explains the requirements for the job and the strict deadline of tomorrow morning, he stresses each word with a thick German accent which makes his demands to stay out of the attic and basement that much more authoritative. Also, the doddered old man refuses to speak to either the black or brown worker and insists on only communicating with the very white Schillinger. Vern’s behavior does not sit well with Imani, but she forgives him because of the huge payout awaiting them.
To meet the monumental task put before them, the crew must work all night. And during a late-night lunch break, Schillinger, Imani, and Carlos have a candid conversation in which they share their plans for the money as well as secrets about their respective pasts. Carlos spots an SS tattoo on Schillinger’s forearm and the bossman must explain his brotherhood background. Understandably, an awkward conversation to have with his employees, but everyone appears oddly accepting of Schillinger being a former skinhead.
During the character development, Carlos endears himself to the audience with his sincere attitude and some fun lines. However, the Attic unfortunately follows the overused tale of the “white knight” and lets Schillinger be the lead of the story. Redemption stories have their place in horror, but no one wants to see a Nazi (even a former one) earn the title of hero. Especially with two otherwise more interesting characters who are ready to save the day.
The movers eventually separate and hope to each tackle a room to make the job go quicker. While alone, each person discovers some strange and disturbing details about the house: a heavily padlocked door to the basement, old pictures of a man in an SS uniform, Imperial Eagle décor, and a note signed by Josef Mengele. The dark rooms and hallways with only a flashlight-lit path and Holocaust imagery put the viewer in an unsettling situation. And for those unfamiliar with Mengele and his experiments, Schillinger gives a brief history lesson on Auschwitz’s Angel of Death.
So far, the movie does well with the swelling of tension, likeable characters, spooky setting, and some excellent gore and makeup. The Nazi hero obviously does not sit well with this critic, but Attic goes even further astray when Vern gives a pretty big reveal.
Vern announces how Jews hold a particular type of serum in their blood and killing them allows the murderer to live forever. Huge misstep for the film. The Holocaust happened because Hitler and his henchmen perpetuated the myth that Jewish people were not human and therefore could justify killing them. Attic follows this mindset by saying the Nazis were right?! That Nazis live forever, and Jews have magic blood? The film makes a slight attempt at saying fear is what creates the necessary ingredient for immortality, but it is also very much stressed that Jewish blood is the best option. Citing the powers of the blood as cause for the millions of deaths almost creates a form of victim blaming. The Nazis weren’t killing because they were hateful monsters, but because they simply wanted to live forever. So, very, very inappropriate.
Stay Out of the Attic combines so many well-done elements to make a strong horror movie, but all of the talents displayed on screen are squandered with the blatantly flawed and offensive reveal above. I’m not saying cancel the film and hide it away; nothing will come from that. Take the strong parts and (if able) rewrite the weak parts. Death camp murderers should be portrayed as bad because they are evil. Not because minorities are magic.
Stay Out of the Attic comes exclusively to Shudder March 11th.
By Amylou Ahava
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