Filmed using just two iPhones, over several days and with a minimal cast & crew, Threshold is well and truly the most independent film I have seen this year. Taking its indie, mumblecore roots to new extremes is to be commended, and it sets Threshold out as a distinctive voice among the more studio driven releases we have seen this year. And yet, despite its originality and a highly likeable cast, Threshold feels like it has failed as a horror film but succeeded as something else.
After receiving an alarming phone call, Leo (Joey Millin) rushes to find his sister Virginia (Madison West), in what appears to be the result of a drug overdose. Convulsing and vomiting, Virginia is in need of help. But just as Leo calls for an ambulance, Virginia appears behind him – seemingly fine. Convinced his sister has taken to drugs again, Leo wants to throw her into rehab and get back on with his life. Only, Virginia claims to have been clean for months – and is in fact suffering from a curse put upon her in favour for getting clean.
At a mere one hour and 18 minutes, Threshold is a tight film with little room for baggage. The fact that directors Powell Robinson and Patrick Robert Young afford the film and its themes so much room to breathe is a striking achievement in itself. The two explore the sibling rivalry between Leo and Virginia, while also exposing their love and affection for each other. Despite spending years apart, with Virginia dropping out of law school and Leo abandoning his punk-rock band in favour of a middle-of-the-road job as a school music teacher, the pair don’t take long to get reacquainted. Their relationship drives the film forward, which is a good job really as there are only a couple of other actors who appear here.
Where Threshold really succeeds, is as an indie road-trip. The scenery captured is beautifully dramatic and manages to look like a film with a far larger budget than it has been made for. As Leo and Virginia take their beat-up car across America, the audience really get a feel for the scope and wonder of this ridiculously large country. What also works is the almost off-hand vibe of it all. Threshold feels, and I believe was, mostly improvised, and it brings a genuine feel to the drama we see play out. Unfortunately, what Threshold doesn’t quite do is succeed in its primary function as a horror film. Yes, we are led to believe Virginia is cursed and yes the two siblings must find the person she has been “bonded” to in order to lift the curse. But it feels like a forgotten aspect. There is one stunningly creepy scene where Leo and Virginia rent an Airbnb, only to find they have an unwanted guest – which really does ramp up the tension. But the chills don’t come often enough, and the ending feels forced, going against the otherwise unprocessed nature of the rest of the film.
The shame here is that Threshold does a lot of good work, it’s entirely inventive and features two actors who I could watch work together all-day. But it’s ending muddies the water, and forces through something it didn’t need. I rarely, if ever, say a film needs to be longer, but perhaps another 10-20 minutes would have fleshed out the finale and given Threshold a much more satisfying end.
Threshold is available to stream on the Arrow Player now.