The Crescent is one of the most moving and subtly chilling supernatural thrillers of recent memory, and considering its competition in that category, such a statement definitely points to a certain degree of greatness. Slotting nicely alongside films like The Babadook and Hereditary, Seth A Smith’s Atlantic Canada set look at motherhood, grief, and the allure of the sea spins and swirls around the viewer with equal amounts of chills and poignancy. It’s a film about loss and spiritual abandonment that feels appropriately grief stricken; never forsaking hard emotional beats in service of some cheap or surreal scare tactics. There’s plenty of shocks and hallucinatory images to go around, but Smith’s work is the rare sort of elevated horror that wants the viewer to feel something greater in their very core than all encompassing dread while watching it.
In her first on screen performance, multi-disciplinary artist turned actor Danika Vandersteen stars as Beth, an artist working in the medium of marbeling, the swirling together of different coloured paints to create evocative imagery. Beth has recently lost her husband under mysterious circumstances, and she’s moved with her two year old son, Lowen (Woodrow Graves, the son of Smith and producer Nancy Ulrich), to a secluded beachside cabin in an effort to get on with her work and her life. Not long after moving in, Beth and Lowen begin to become the target of some ethereal spirit that seems to be emanating from the waters outside their home.
To say more about these spirits and how they operate would be to spoil much of The Crescent’s weighty emotional material. While Smith has crafted a bonechillingly gorgeous and majestic portrait of Atlantic Canada’s cloudy coastline, it’s all in service of material that boasts truly heart-wrenching and thoughtful reflections on grief and parenthood. Depicting grief and sadness as all encompassing and patently indefinable forces has been done in films plenty of times before, but screenwriter Darcy Spidle has given Smith and cinematographer Craig Buckley plenty of leeway for extra visual layers and authorial stamps. Every bit of The Crescent works because it feels like a collaborative process where everyone brings something different to the table, while staying true to the overarching story goals. It’s a perfect marriage of material with artists capable of pulling it off and everyone understanding what needs to be conveyed through the material. It sounds like the goal every film should have, but The Crescent comes with a degree of delicate technical difficulty that makes its multi-disciplinary approach all the more breathtaking to behold.
It’s also startling that Vandersteen and Graves haven’t acted previously. The chemistry between mother and young child is exceptional. They complement each other nicely, and craft uniquely likable characters through subtle grace notes and traits. Vandersteen’s initially understated and distant grief gives way to something more dramatically hefty in the film’s second half, and the novice performer handles it like a pro. Meanwhile, young Graves makes an indelible impression with one of the best performances by a toddler in the history of Canadian cinema. Smith couldn’t have asked for better collaborators, and Vandersteen and Graves make the film more than just a visually striking masterwork.
It will be interesting to see where Smith goes from here. With two features under his belt, he’s quickly becoming more than just another filmmaker to keep an eye on. He’s a bonafide artist worth tracking throughout his future endeavours. The Crescent might be a gloomy motion picture, but it’s one brimming with humanity and a divine sense of providence. It’s certainly spooky, but it will make the audience feel emotions they wouldn’t normally expect from a horror film. It’s the atypical beats that The Crescent dabbles in that viewers will remember best and most fondly.
The Crescent opens and Cineplex theatres in select Canadian cities on Friday, August 10, 2018. It will screen for one night only at Mayfair Theatre in Ottawa on August 15, and will be available on VOD, iTunes, and Amazon Prime starting September 4.
Check out the trailer for The Crescent: