Once The Hoarder kicks into high gear, it provides an ample amount of chills, thrills and gruesome scares. Just what the gore-happy doctor ordered. The pace early on is a bit sluggish as It takes its time getting started, setting up the New York City storage building and its lead characters Ella and Molly played by Mischa Barton and Emily Atack. It leaves the introduction of supporting characters, such as Vince played by the ever-entertaining Robert Knepper, to the second act once the horror is unleashed. While this is a little awkward, it does allow for creating a very specific and effective environment in which our characters find themselves stuck. The hallways create a claustrophobic surrounding and the lights triggered by sensors to time out when not in use create an unsettling urgency to certain scenes. Director Matt Winn makes the most out of his location, his creature and his cast in this delightful, slightly sadistic twist on the Old Dark House motif. The Hoarder is worth adding to your collection.
The story behind The Hoarder, from writers James Handel and Matt Winn, follows Ella (Mischa Barton) and her friend Molly (Emily Atack) sneaking into the storage unit shared between her and her fiancÃ©. It is dangerously close to closing time. Discovering the floors head down into the basement, they mistakenly head down the fourth floor — the bottom floor — where they discover the darkly lit halls hold something far more sinister than clothes, books and assorted nick-knacks. Before they know it, something slinks out of the shadows and whisks Molly away to her death while Ella flees for her life. She barely makes it to the third floor where she encounters Vince (Robert Knepper), an NYC Detective, and Willow (Valene Kane), a hippie who likes some smack. They wait as Vince heads back down to the fourth floor; but, when he returns, he finds nothing and they discover they’ve waiting too long to exit before the building is locked down for the night. Ella, Vince and Willow discover a few other “hoarders” locked in with them as they struggle to survive the night, the plot twists and the bloody mayhem.
While Mischa Barton and Robert Knepper are the lead actors in The Hoarder, the location – the underground storage facility – is the true star of the film. The identical hallways, the repetition of the doors to each unit, the flickering of the lights and the cold, unforgiving aesthetics of the hues, plaster and metal make for an elaborate and disorienting maze of confusion and distress. It creates a surprisingly effective hunting ground for the creature unleashed from the gloomy basement level below. The addition of how the lights are controlled by sensors creates shadows and dark hallways where the cast is not located – or, if they stay too still for too long. Once triggered, the lights go out and everything goes completely dark – and, of course, the light switches needed to turn the lights back on are never close by. It’s a creative device that serves the film well. Once the creature appears, he is hidden by the alternating darkness and quickly darts down the many corners and hallways. Their ordeal is heightened as they learn they are locked in for the night with no way out and no phone reception, adding to the tension and fear. Never mind that things get worse when they later find themselves trapped back on the basement floor – oh, my – that’s when things go amazingly south.
Robert Knepper is a fan favorite ever since his stint on Prison Break as T-Bag, on Carnivale as Tommy Dolan or, recently, on iZombie as Angus DeBeers. He is an amazing actor who brings a menace and immediacy to most all his characters. Even here, playing, for the most part, the good guy, Vince, a New York Police Detective with an edge and a secret stash, he dances with that delicate balance between a trusted ally and a potential threat to everyone’s safety. It is great to see him in a horror film again before heading to the new Twin Peaks episodes on Showtime, returning to T-Bag on Prison Break: Sequel and delighting super-hero fans as the Clock King on The Flash. His co-star, Mischa Barton, is terrific as the lead character, Ella. The O.C. actress, still trying to find her horror roots previously starring in Apartment 1303 3D and Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard, settles in for another impressive genre film turn. She easily illustrates she has a great horror film performance in her waiting to get out. While The Hoarder will not do that for her, it does improve upon her current filmography. She really shines when the attention returns back to her as the “final girl” facing the horrors of the film’s plot twists in the grim and ghastly basement.
Director Matt Winn also shines more crimson the more horrific the film becomes. He handles the creepiness of the creature lurking in the basement or stalking the halls above with an air of shocking fright and concerned awe, leaving the audience gasping “what the…did I just see?” When the time comes, he embraces the appalling implications of what makes the creature, played wonderfully by Philip Philmar, a creature to fear. The film benefits from his collaboration with cinematographer Eben Bolter who handles the brightly lit geometrically safe storage units with equal care and flavor as he does the dank, dismal decay of the basement floor. The film is also edited well by Xavier Russell, especially as the film ramps up the final act, and the music from Andrew Pearce effectively winds up the tension and accents the action. More so than many films, The Hoarder wears the team work of film making up on the screen.
The Hoarder is a tight thriller that introduces an interesting new horror monster and makes the most out of its environment and plot constructs. The film takes it time exploring the storage unit and the lead character Ella played notably by Mischa Barton. The supporting cast elevate the film as they make their way into the second act with Robert Knepper, Valene Kane, Andrew Buckley and Philip Philmar all standing out. The movie weaves in and out of the hallways and stairwells making the most out of its Old Dark House inspirations with competent direction from Matt Winn. The creature is spectacular too with grisly but simple effects and makeup. The idea behind the “hoarding” is unique and a fun -if slightly silly- premise. In the end, despite some flaws in pacing early on and handling the timing of character introductions, The Hoarder makes for a satisfying and entertaining horror entry.
The Hoarder (3.3 / 5) is out on VOD and DVD April 5, 2016 from RLJ Entertainment