Every now and then, there is a hidden gem film that exists among us like an unseen specter waiting to make its presence known. Ghost and haunting stories are some of the horror genre’s most viable staple categories, feeding off of the human fear of death, loss, and the unknown. Leaning into more emotional aspects of this particular composition, filmmakers are able to invoke more concentrated elements of drama like guilt, grief, and suffering. Director Gary King’s (What’s Up Lovely) Among Us is one ghostly film many readers may not have heard of or laid eyes on, but it is a valiant effort in haunting effects. It’s a 2017 film that remains buried under more successful high-budget paranormal releases and does not necessarily turn over any stones, but it deserves appreciation for its emotional execution and overlooked simplicity.
Starring Katie Morrison (The Blacklist), Mark DiConzo (Power), Elena Sanz (Bent), Among Us picks up when “After the mysterious death of their young son, a couple flees to a remote lake house to escape a mysterious entity following them only to discover escape may not be possible.” With a genuine grasp of traumatic horror and a clean control in producing spooks, Among Us is more than just underrated, it’s almost unheard of when it comes to film discussion. Running a smooth 90 minutes with commendable performances from a minimal cast, King leads viewers to think one thing, but not all is as it seems… kind of like this unseen indie wonder.
You Two Are Quite The Feast
Mallory and Frank McDowell’s young son Danny passed away a year before they found themselves haunted by not only his memory, but something else. With nothing left behind of Danny except for a small single mitten, the two struggle to accept his absence and his otherworldly presence as the haunting increases over time. Though it may be a quintessential setup, the grieving parents of a deceased child play an optimum, almost classic, role in the horror genre. Their refusal to let their child go and the pain that they hold onto manifests spectral-style encounters. The depth of the horror at hand runs linearly to the narrative of Among Us as Frank and Mallory suspect the very force that took over their son before his death is hunting them, leading them to months on the run. The audience knows the couple is running from something from the beginning, but they join the couple in asking from what?
Once they find some semblance of peace at their lakefront trailer, the presence makes itself known but Mallory, though hesitant to move on, refuses to leave. Wanting to confront their problem head-on, husband and wife join together to keep from running and find out how to absolve their existence from the dooming omnipresence. Simple moments quickly become chilling, like they do for anyone suffering from past trauma, which adds an uncertain dread to each of the scenes in Among Us. Eventually Mallory and Frank learn that guilt will always be there, it never goes away, they just learn to deal with it. It’s a solid story skeleton that gives viewers more than enough emotional material to chew on.
“The rocky push & pull of guilt and blame really drives Among Us into being a more poignant piece rather than a run-of-the-mill ghost tale.”
The rocky push & pull of guilt and blame really drives Among Us into being a more poignant piece rather than a run-of-the-mill ghost tale. While Mallory seems to be the main protagonist, Frank serves as a fair equal in sharing in the film’s anguish. There is an obvious tension between them, but there is also love. Viewers can feel their pain and stress as characters and share in their confusion of not knowing what to do next. One feels guilty while the other blames and vice versa made heavier by Frank’s handicap that reserves him to a wheelchair. He is stationary in his sadness while Mallory physically runs from it and both feel the weight of being alive while their son is dead throughout the film.
Touching on self-medication, they constantly move and partake in drinking and marijuana smoking to numb the pain, stifle their secrets, and hide from the haunting as natural coping mechanisms dealing with trauma. Frank and Mallory are unlikable at times as Among Us shows the truly ugly side of confronting guilt, but they are also charming and endearing in their journey to absolve their consciences and let go of what went wrong. When the truth is brought out and they figure out what needs to be done in order to truly move on, Frank and Mallory find themselves doing the impossible and the unbelievable in an effort to get the soul of their son over to the other side. What happened to Danny cannot be taken back by either one of them, but in the end Mallory and Frank know they can make it right together.
Grammar School Stuff
What makes Among Us a special kind of undiscovered gem and one that is set apart from your run-of-the-mill haunting flicks is found in its visual effects. From Frank and Mallory’s initial flee out of their home to a wacky hardcore ending, Among Us is littered with scares that range from basic to downright aggressive. There is typical ghost activity, like flickering lights, moving objects, and a symphony of creaking sounds, but it all somehow feels so fresh that it’s hard to ignore the film’s intentional ingenuity.
Relying on more practical, simplistic frights, the jump scares never feel forced and every instance of supernatural terror makes viewers feel as if they’re experiencing the happenings with Frank and Mallory rather than observing them. Regardless of nightly or daytime environments, the scares strike effectively and are impressively controlled in what the viewer actually sees. Authentic heavy whispering, the slight sound of their son’s laughter, footsteps, thumping, and bangs around the main characters all give a classic cadence to the malicious apparition that is so desperately trying to get inside their space and minds. Appropriately paced and progressively chilling, Among Us manifests some of the most natural ghostly hauntings that bear subtle, yet heavy revenants intending harm and connection.
“…a truly grounded horror film with intrinsic veins rooted in model ghost story tropes, but presents a raw portrait of grief that scrapes the edge of new-age hauntings.“
Detailing the ominous tone established by the narrative and the actual scares, the setting and atmosphere of Among Us enhance Gary King’s style. The use of both natural and artificial lighting is eerie as consistent montages of visuals dance in between the spirit’s activity. Something as simple as the recurring image of Danny’s limp hand in the flashbacks Mallory experiences manages to grip viewer attention with ease. King has a very keen eye for framing horror, one that is striking and soft given the right moment. The camerawork varies in perspective and angles with the viewpoint following and traveling behind characters throughout the film. Memories are presented in a dreamy, euphoric palette combined with a lot of symmetry in shots playing off of the film’s parallels between the trauma and the haunting of the living. Among Us keeps conditioned material from becoming tired and instead champions a gratified sense of energized understanding.
The slow-building tension and increasing intensity of the hauntings steady the traction, allowing observers to take in the film’s daring ability to bring a natural essence to a modern ghost story that would, otherwise, take on a cheap gimmicky quality. Reflections in the water, shadowy silhouettes, shades of blue in the dark, and even the attack of invisible energy all play a part in creating a supernatural scape that carefully infiltrates Frank and Mallory’s lone point of escape. This haunting of Among Us does not take place in a gothic mansion or a fancy home, not even in the suburbs, but in a trailer home by the lake. The wilderness setting adds a layer of isolation to the couple’s woes as well as a barrier between their ability to face reality. The real type of rural setting amplifies their feeling of being alone contrasted with their feeling of being haunted. King crafts a truly grounded horror film with intrinsic veins rooted in model ghost story tropes, but presents a raw portrait of grief that scrapes the edge of new-age hauntings.
Haunt Me No More
When it comes to mediums and characters that assist the haunted in communicating with the haunters, it’s common to conjure up images in the likes of Poltergeist’s Tangina Barrons and Insidious’ Elise Rainier. Among Us takes a modern route by introducing an average, down-on-her-luck young woman, Eleanor, as the clairvoyant played by Elena Sanz. Eleanor is old school as far as her equipment and approach to contacting the dead goes, but her age and look is far from expectation. Though currently working as a waitress, the spiritualist was once the star of a ghost hunting show who left the prime time to avoid exploitation of her power for ratings. She is honest and reasonable, donning a white streak in her hair to hunt at the complexities of her gift and commits to helping Frank and Mallory despite a personal vow to never get involved with the paranormal again.
There is a calming energy to her part and an authenticity to her techniques as she can see things that are hidden, cryptic messages, with no how or why. Sanz’s unique voice combined with Eleanor’s daring, cavalier attitude allows her to steal scene after scene in Among Us. She delivers some pretty powerful, well-written dialogue that echoes the great Tangina for a more contemporary audience. As she details the way the afterlife can manipulate human emotions the way heat makes cold and electricity makes light adds a layer of meaning to the narrative and a tempered explanation to what the couple is experiencing. She is a relatively believable expert in the paranormal and provides an appropriate amount of charisma to level out the film’s dark subject matter.
“Like A Dark Song meets Paranormal Activity, Among Us is a unique application of paranormal methods uncomplicated by digital advances…”
The final moments in the third act of Among Us are completely chaotic, but powerful and gripping. The film ends pretty abruptly but offers a strange catharsis that washes over Frank and Mallory’s hopeless state of grief. Though it is not without its flaws, it’s a shame King’s venture into the genre has not sparked more interest among the wide horror audience. Like A Dark Song meets Paranormal Activity, Among Us is a unique application of paranormal methods uncomplicated by digital advances and it is a moving story portraying the complexities of love and loss.
Among Us is currently streaming on Tubi, waiting to be uncovered by an audience that will value the film’s visual and emotional triumphs… or by anyone that enjoys a good haunting. Have you seen Gary King’s Among Us? Do you think this film is a ghostly hidden gem? Do you think it’s worth a watch? Let us know your thoughts over on Twitter, Reddit, or in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!