By David Dent
Alex Secker’s second feature, following on from his gloomy post-apocalyptic movie, 2018’s ‘Follow the Crows,’ couldn’t be more different.
Lovers Anna (Daniella Faircloth) and Izzy (Erin Leighton) are on their way to meet the latter’s parents who live in a large country pile in Wiltshire. It’s pretty clear from their in-car chat that they’re very different people: Anna is a trainee nurse, whose aim in life is to help people. She’s desperate to be accepted by Izzy’s family but feels nervous about the class difference. Izzy, on the other hand, has grown up in a world of wealth and privilege (she dabbles in fashion design), and can’t see what all the fuss is about, although she advises Anna not to bring up the subject of politics.
The first person who greets them when they arrive is Lucy, the maid (Shaniece Williams), who is black. As if this isn’t offensive enough when the family are introduced it’s Anna’s worst nightmare. Izzy’s brother Vincent (Alex Pitcher) is a traditional toffy-nosed prig with a drinking problem who finds his sister’s and her partner’s aspirations laughable, and their mother Elizabeth (Karen Payne) is a haughty monster whose treatment of Lucy is beyond cruel (when the terribly put upon Lucy cuts herself in the kitchen, Anna’s medical attentions look like the first kind thing that has happened to the maid since taking up employment).
Anna’s concerns deepen when she finds out that Izzy’s father David (Tony Manders), although bedridden, is kept behind locked doors. She also finds a strange picture of a kind of tree demon, which, she is advised, is an ancient deity which David wishes to be held permanently on display. Anna loses an earring, later finding it among Elizabeth’s things, and also starts to feel ill – could she be drugged? Izzy’s attitude towards her becomes more hostile as the same time as Anna’s fears, that the family is somehow plotting against her, become more pronounced.
It’s pretty easy to guess from the above where all this is heading. But Secker heads off any obvious final reel shenanigans, despite some of Anna’s visions which suggest the contrary, with something that initially feels more anticlimactic but is in reality deeply insidious.
The director has made a kind of class war horror movie, where the increasingly caricatured personages in the house become braying ciphers of a section of society who always seem to get away with things.
If the horrors which were expected in ‘Onus’ remain half-glimpsed, the ones we weren’t remained on full display until the last second of the film.