Blumhouse’s newest supernatural horror Stephanie is finally getting a wide release, landing on DVD this week. An unfortunately quiet release, but don’t despair – Stephanie is certainly worth the watch. The team behind it is the cream of the crop. The director is Akiva Goldsman, Academy Award winner for A Beautiful Mind, Executive Producer of Star Trek: Discovery and several Paranormal Activity movies. The screenwriters? None other than Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski of Super Dark Times and SiREN. And although a very limited cast, it does include Frank Grillo (The Purge: Anarchy & Election Year), Anna Torv (Fringe) and introduces the wonderful Shree Crooks (American Horror Story and Captain Fantastic).
Akiva Goldsman introduced this movie at the 2017 Overlook Film Festival, in April of last year. He said he wanted to make a movie that was tense, and relied on anticipation more than action. He wanted to make an movie that was simple, with minimal settings and few characters, but one that still made audiences feel uncomfortable. What better tool for that job than a child who’s home alone. Anyone who has kids or was ever once a kid knows there are few things scarier than a child left alone. But that is exactly where Stephanie begins.
The movie starts with Stephanie. Why is she alone? Where are her parents? How long will they be gone or is it that they’re dead? The viewer is left to wonder. It teases at many horror tropes and I fully expected the ‘twist’ to be that she’s not alone, that her parents are killed and, a lá Psycho, lives under the delusion that they will come back home one day.
All we know at this point is that she is living in a home out in the woods, way too young to be on her own. Her very lonesomeness is what keeps you on edge about even the simplest things. The shots are tight and clean, and you just about want to barf from nerves. I’ll give you an example; Stephanie wants to make a smoothie, but she drops a jar of jam she thought would taste great in the mix. Oh well. She scoops up the jam and puts it in the blender anyway. She doesn’t notice that there were some pretty hefty chunks of glass in that jam. And when she fires up the blender we’re left to wonder, oh, what the hell’s going to happen with that glass. It jams the machine, is what happens. What ensues is a quiet, tense scene that left audiences squirming.
Next thing you know, Stephanie’s parent show up. They are in full gear and ready for combat. They’re also very surprised to see Stephanie alive, almost afraid to see her again. It’s clear that they have some difficult decisions to make (whatever they may be), and somehow finding her dead might have been easier. There is great chemistry between the three actors, but especially Grillo and Crooks. The complex, emotionally difficult decision to leave Stephanie clearly wasn’t easy, but now what do they do?
I won’t spoil anymore, but suffice it to say, this is where things turn dark and weird. And I know how much you love that sh*t. Stephanie is a tense, dark and simple thriller that certainly made the audiences at Overlook squirm. It has its flaws, but is overall a solid effort. The biggest issue I have is the total tonal switch between the first and second half. That said, there’s very little to complain about here.
With the incredible pedigree behind all levels of the production, it’s a wonder to me that it struggled so much to find footing. It couldn’t get distribution, never saw theatrical release and now is only getting DVD release (meaning no BluRay or other format). With all the power going into this production and the solid outcome, I’m really not sure why the movie gods didn’t show this one more love, but here’s your chance.