As far as psychological body horror films go, Cody Calahan’s Let Her Out plays all the expected Cronenbergian beats while exuding a neon hue. Nothing more, nothing less. Canada’s Black Fawn team once again work their indie charms through low-budget tightrope walking, and bring supernatural unrest without some Toronto-sized price tag.
This is a cool, calm and collected attack on sibling rivalries, compact and delusional enough to cruise through a psyche-bending battle of inner-wits. Blackouts skip time while a woman learns about the sister she never knew, until Calahan unleashes a skin-crawling finale that makes up for otherwise mundane plot navigating. Creeps, crawls and all the grossness in between soon rise – it’s enough to keep genre fans engaged on character corruption alone.
Alanna LeVierge stars as Helen, a Canadian bike courier holding onto a dark past. Her mother – a sex worker impregnated through rape – unsuccessfully attempted to kill Helen, resulting in her own death and “newborn” Helen’s rescue. This still haunts a now adult Helen, and it’s only going to get worse. After an accident puts her in the hospital, a tumor is discovered with side-effects far beyond medical means. Helen finds herself suffering from hallucinations, dementia and memory lapses that lead to the discovery that she wasn’t alone in her mother’s womb – and her unborn sister wants the life she never had.
A lot of the shocks in Let Her Out are replications of many similarly-mapped genre playgrounds, from Helen pulling a long clump of black hair out her mouth to a bloody form crawling forward à la Black Fawn’s other current festival darling, Bed Of The Dead. Expectations are met through chilling horror visuals, but most appear as mirror images of sequences that more tested subgenre fans will find far-too familiar. Seedy, underground scenes plunge into nightclub madness like a psychedelic supernatural rave, all while Helen cheats death and calls upon direction that executes just enough energy to distract from repetition.
A large portion of Let Her Out‘s success hinges on LeVierge’s split-personality acting, positioned behind ambiguity until she’s allowed to play both sides of Helen. Calahan guides his actress through mental deterioration by way of dark, unknown paranoia, but her better work comes when bruises pulsate and physical symptoms split open. Helen tries her best to stay Helen, but – as promised – her alter-ego sister is eventually unleashed by way of transformation.
Nothing is spoiled by this information, it’s just assurance that Calahan and LeVierge kick up the gore much like Black Fawn’s queasy exploitation release, Bite. By way of scripting, most of Calahan’s work (co-written by Adam Seybold) runs just above generic – thankfully, LeVierge proves passionate in her horroific turn as a doomed secret sister who fights a vicious, all-consuming battle.
Calahan’s direction reminds of a less jovial Ava’s Possessions, but similar in the duelling personalities Helen rages against. Certain shades of blues and pinks highlight which side of Helen we’re currently getting – like the blackouts and killing aren’t enough – but a stark contrast is dutifully established between good and evil. There are more lives at risk than just Helen’s.
Nina Kiri stars as Helen’s best friend, whose relationship turns from loving to toxic once out-of-body experiences threaten the livelihood of both girls. This means that Calahan must keep a constant sense of volatility, so Helen can turn from compassionate to murderous within a moment’s notice. What starts as contained chaos eventually spreads into the world around Helen, as Calahan slowly leaks overarching dread like nerve gas through an air vent.
Let Her Out may be a bit derivative by psycho-dramatic horror standards, but it’s not without merit. Many films waste similar topics on slower, less artfully paced trails, where Cody Calahan has a bit more genre fun. Influences are worn with passion, as gore accentuates a body-shifting end that’s as slimy as it is worthwhile. Slow-burn is all about the payoff, and while Alanna LeVierge endures the horrors of supernatural possession (or medical phenomena based on what you believe), mundane haunts turn from sly smiles to fanged grins. One body, a few souls and a saturated cranial nightmare – who said two heads are better than one?
Let Her Out may be a bit familiar in terms of content, but Cody Calahan's trippy, saturated paranoia makes for a tense-enough ride through psyche and pain.