Teresa Palmer gives an excellent performance in an otherwise derivative horror film about a grieving mother haunted by her dead child
Though it resulted in some of the finest genre films of the 21st century, including The Babadook, Hereditary and Midsommar, it wouldn’t be all that bad if we got a break from horror movies that are about grief for a little while. Real life is about as bleak as it’s ever been, and while horror has always in some way reflected current events, maybe we can take a breather and return to a brief, glorious run of masked killers or radioactive giant rats. If not for that, then because it’s a genre that’s no longer bringing much to the table except more suffering and anguish. Taneli Mustonen’s The Twin, while well-acted and capably directed, seems almost committed to trying nothing new with the genre. Even a third act twist that essentially negates everything that happens up to that point is derivative in its own separate way.
Rachel (Teresa Palmer) and Anthony (Steven Cree) are mourning the death of their young son, Nathan, in a car accident. Hoping for a fresh start for themselves and their surviving child, Nathan’s twin Elliot (Tristan Ruggeri), they move out of the U.S. to the tiny, picturesque village in Finland where Anthony grew up. As you could probably guess, even though Steven promises that they’ll be welcomed with open arms, the formally dressed locals are pretty weird, stand-offish and staring at Rachel and Elliot with unreadable (but definitely sinister) expressions on their faces.
Rachel seems unbothered about it initially, until Elliot starts acting weird as well, talking to himself, wandering off, acting secretive, and violently lashing out over hanging on to Nathan’s belongings. Steven will hear nothing of it, however, and the village doctor condescendingly suggests that Elliot’s concerning behavior is her fault. The only person willing to listen to Rachel is Helen (Barbara Marten), who feeds into her growing paranoia not just that Nathan’s ghost, angry and vengeful over his sudden, violent death, has followed them to Finland, but that the other villagers mean to do Elliot harm as part of a dark Pagan ritual.
- grieving mother
- useless, dismissive husband and father
- small town hiding a Dark Secret
- mysterious pagan rituals
- creepy child
- creepy child drawings
- supporting character acting as sentient exposition machine
Palmer gives her all in a performance that radiates genuine, world-shattering sorrow, and it’s a shame that it wasn’t expended on a movie that tries even slightly to keep the viewer on their toes. The Twin is a little bit of “grief is the scariest monster of all,” a little bit of folk horror, and a whole lot of worn out haunted house pastiche. The reveal of what’s supposedly going on comes early enough in the film that an “oh wait, this is what’s actually happening” zag on the audience is both inevitable, and unsurprising. Much like Palmer’s intense performance is wasted, so is the production design, in which even otherwise benign events, like a village fair, are given a subtly menacing edge. Further frustrating is Mustonen’s reliance on dream sequences, which is forgiven after the first one, but obvious filler after the third or fourth one.
Have we said all there is to say about grief in horror? Probably not, but there needs to be more than “grief is a violent spirit tormenting a bereaved mother and/or wife and/or daughter.” Even just switching the protagonist from Rachel to Steven would have been a slight deviation from the formula, but alas, it is not to be. The Twin isn’t a bad movie so much as completely unoriginal, and, in a way, that’s worse.
The Twin premieres on Shudder May 6th.