One of the many great things about horror films is their ability to come in all shapes and sizes, styled to fit vastly different tastes. Patrick White’s teen thriller Queen of Spades is specifically tailored to a young, emerging horror audience who needs a late night scary movie to watch with friends. A collection of tense sequences amidst a somber mood, the film has an audience to play to, albeit a very narrow one.
The story begins with four friends, Sebastian (Eric Osbourne), Katy (Jamie Bloch), Matthew (Nabil Rajo), and Anna (Ava Preston), hanging outside, sneaking a few beers though they are underage. It’s not long before they are interrupted by the shocking sight of another kid pacing the edge of a tall building. Without warning, the child plunges off the side, and the teens rush over to call for help. His manages to mutter his final words, “Queen of Spades, show yourself,” before the group flees, afraid of being caught drinking. Later, Matt and Sebastian decide to play a prank on the younger Anna, convincing her to summon the figure mentioned by the dying stranger. Based in Russian folklore, the Queen of Spades compares similarly with “Bloody Mary,” summoned by staring into a mirror and repeating her name while sprinkling in a few more ritualistic tidbits.
As it turns out, summoning the demon muttered by someone you just watched die a horrible death isn’t the wisest move. Slowly, the Queen of Spades attacks the friends one by one. Sebastian reaches out to Smirnoff (Daniel Kash), an author of a book covering the entity, for help to defeat her. Anna‘s overworked and absent mother Mary (Kaelen Ohm) confronts the kids, thinking they bullied her daughter. However, as the bodies pile up and horrific dreams surface, Mary realizes the threat is all too real, and must find a way to save her daughter’s soul.
I can see Queen of Spades playing well with the youngest, newest members of the horror audience. I’m going to pull a quote, from of all places, Bane from The Dark Knight Rises. “Theatricality and deception – powerful agents to the uninitiated. But we are initiated…” This shouldn’t be necessarily understood as a bad thing. Horror certainly is not a “one size fits all” genre, and it’s important to reach out to underserved age demographics to get them in on the fun. This film’s biggest folly may be that it pigeonholed itself into being enjoyable just for the newcomers. And not for the reasons one would assume.
The scares are present in the material. Director Patrick White created several frightening sequences, particularly Anna‘s mother’s nightmares. Special effects and gore do not necessarily make for great horror, but they accent it, and there is enough present here to satisfy that. What’s sorely missing from Queen of Spades is connective tissue and wit. We get few satisfying reasons for the character’s actions, and it’s very difficult to become invested in any of them. The film trudges on from scary sequence to scary sequence without direction, filled with dialogue like, “What’s happening?” and “you need to help us.” This type of structure likely would have worked much better as a short film, not a full feature. The unsettling amount of drone camera shots of the apartment building serve as a blunt reminder of this.
The most rewarding story arc to follow is that of Mary. Actress Kaelen Ohm does a very nice job of portraying a single mother strung out as far as she can go to make ends meet. While her performance shines the brightest, I wouldn’t place blame upon any of the cast for the film’s misgivings. Quite the contrary; the age appropriateness of the cast playing teenagers is welcomed here, especially to a genre guilty of trying to pass off actors and actresses who’ve surely started 401K’s as high schoolers. It’s also fun to see character actor and horror veteran Daniel Kash thrown in the mix as well. It’s unfortunate they were not given more to work with, as they are collectively the strength of the movie.
“If your children want to watch a scary movie with their friends, Queen of Spades is one you can feel comfortable putting on.”
With all of that said, there are positives here. With a worthwhile script and a bigger budget, I’d be excited to see what director Patrick White will do in the future. If your children want to watch a scary movie with their friends, Queen of Spades is one you can feel comfortable putting on. I would advise taking advantage of this golden opportunity to be the “cool” parent and let them watch this foray into our wonderful world of horror alone.
You can catch Queen of Spades in select theatres on June 11th, on VOD June 15th, and on Blu-Ray June 29th. For more reviews like this one, plus interviews with your favorite horror creators, keep lurking at Nightmare on Film Street.