Leo (Joey Millin) is a schoolteacher who has been having trouble with his ex-wife, and would like to spend some time with his young daughter, but as it has transpired there's a problem with his sister Virginia (Madison West) that his mother has guilt-tripped him into dealing with. He heads over to her apartment to find out what's the matter and is nearly knocked over by a red robed figure in the hallway who causes him to drop his phone, but almost immediately there is a scream and he rushes inside to find Virginia lying, convulsing on the bed. She manages to snap out of it and persuade him she does not need an ambulance, but he remains concerned and exasperated when she says she has been a member of a Satanic cult these past months...
There's low budget and there's Threshold, a horror movie that was made over the course of twelve days on iPhones, mostly with two characters onscreen and without a complete screenplay - completely by design. Seeking to make a virtue of this Spartan approach, or perhaps a gimmick, it was the opportunity to see how they got around these restrictions that would provide the chief interest in the piece, but alas it was also a reminder that not every improvised movie had a Christopher Guest or Mike Leigh behind it, and most of the time if there was one thing missing that was truly necessary was a script. While Millin and West were to be applauded for being brave enough to tackle the challenges this set out, the fact remained the results were less than compelling.
Because there was no real structure to the story, the two leads fell back on tics and tropes to attempt to sustain the audience's investment, and that, unfortunately, led to shouting and swearing to make this look more vibrant than it actually was. Whenever there was a lull, and since they could not think of any good jokes, they would start dropping the F bomb (and occasionally the C bomb) to convince us the stakes were high and this was important drama, when it looked more like they had run out of ideas in the yawning space between the opening and closing scenes. Therefore for much of this it was barely a horror flick at all, it was a jawing session that burbled along without sufficient purpose, and when the horror did arrive, it was difficult to justify sitting through all the chatter for a couple of minutes' screen time, if that.
If anything, Threshold was a road movie, detailing a cross-country trip for the siblings, but even with the sincere tries at naturalism throughout, it just felt as if you were eavesdropping on a theatre class workshop. Every so often there would be a plot point that might have been sorted out in advance for the duo to reach, such as the bit where a man in a clown mask enters the house they are stopping over at and behaves very aggressively (yup, he resorts to swearing too), but it merely went to prove how hard it was to fill the minutes of a movie when you have not planned enough for what could have engaged the viewer. The narrative with Virginia suffering intermittent possession of her body by a male cult member wasn't a bad idea, and didn't need special effects to achieve (though she does self-harm at one point), but that was about it for originality, and too often you may zone out when yet another dialogue exchange dragged on. Full marks for effort and chutzpah, but the end product was purely for a specialist indie market. Music by Nick Chuba.
[THRESHOLD DEBUTS ON ARROW IN THE UK, US & CANADA 3RD MAY 2021.]