The release of Unsane in 2018 marked a monumental step for the use of smartphones in filmmaking, after Steven Soderbergh swapped his entire camera crew for the 28mm 12-megapixel camera of an iPhone 7 Plus. Now Bastard directors Patrick Robert Young and Powell Robinson, as well as producer Lauren Bates, have become the latest band of emerging filmmakers to jump on this wagon. Equipped with two iPhones and two cars, they took to the road and shot the entirety of Threshold in just twelve days. The end product is an indie occult horror-infused road movie sprinkled with a sub-plot of inter-sibling friction. The film is set to premiere in early May on ARROW.
The film begins with a phone call between Leo (Joey Millin) and his mother over a blackout screen. She urges him to drive to check in on his shambles of a sister, Virginia (Madison West). After some vehement protesting, he agrees and begrudgingly draws back some warehouse doors to reveal the first scene. We spotlight on a sluggish-looking college car, strewn with graffiti’d cigarette boxes and a sticker-plastered bonnet. From the opening tone, we can already tell that this is going to be one slow-burn of a ride that won’t be hitting 90mph speeds any time soon.
Pulling up outside Virginia’s apartment, Leo finds her lying on a mattress having what appear to be drug-related convulsions. Whilst he’s pinning her down, editor William Ford-Conway uses a fast cut to some pupil dilation, paying homage to the hip-hop montage of Aronofsky‘s Requiem for a Dream. This time, however, it’s substance abuse with a supernatural spin. Virginia argues that this isn’t some symptom of withdrawal like her brother claims, but rather the sinister side-effect of a cult’s rehabilitation process, which has left her ‘bound’ to a man whose sensations she shares. Whether this be strangulation or shooting heroin, she experiences it all.
Convinced that the only remedy is finding this man and somehow breaking the curse, Virginia drags a doubtful Leo along for the ride. This promising set-up, however, soon suffers from a loss of traction, and the bulk of what follows is a sibling bonding session with some motel-hopping along the way. Almost exclusively improvised, this dialogue-heavy section showcases the raw resurrection of a relationship that had at some point run off-track. As old college friends, Millin and West do a superb job of portraying this fragile rekindling.
In light of this developing narrative, any real horror comes in secondary. Even Leo is oblivious to the fact that it is Halloween week and has to be reminded, much like the audience themselves. Whenever they arise, horror tropes are humorously played off. There are some halfhearted attempts at pumpkin carving, paired with the summoning of dead pets using Ouija boards (Peaky the parakeet). However, we get the impression that both Leo and Virginia aren’t fully convinced themselves that they’re the central protagonists of a horror film.
At this point, the only thing that loosely ties Threshold to the horror genre is the commendable score by Nick Chuba, which continues to build suspense throughout, despite it falling short visually. It is only in the final few moments that we really hit a climax and the action finally begs for attention over its musical accompaniment. Whether or not this is enough to resuscitate the almost forgotten plot-line, it will definitely leave you at a loose end, struggling to piece together what it was that you just witnessed in the last few seconds.