SXSW 2016 Review | ‘The Waiting’ is the Hardest Part

James Caan is great as a man who is tricked into thinking his house is haunted. The rest of the movie is... not so great.

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani

In The Waiting, a pair of teenagers secretly film one of their neighbors and try to convince him that his house is haunted. It’s a premise that would make for a cheesy reality game show, so turning it into a serious drama and/or thriller probably would have been difficult for anybody. I’m sympathetic with director Kasra Farahani, who did the best he could with iffy material, but despite at least one great performance The Waiting is a movie with serious problems. 

Ethan (Logan Miller) and Sean (Keir Gilchrist) have concocted this sadistic experiment and invested a lot of Sean’s father’s money into rigging their neighbor’s house with cameras, and also some little devices that could imitate the signs of a haunting. They are drunk on their own cleverness, and eager to justify their creepy voyeurism to their young girlfriends, who are oblivious to all of these red flags. Meanwhile, James Caan plays their ill-fated neighbor, Mr. Grainey. He seems like a cantankerous jerk but, more importantly, has a padlock on his basement door, and that’s a mystery that Ethan becomes obsessed with solving. 

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The first 2/3’s of The Waiting are pretty darned dry, so the film cuts between these events and the aftermath, in which some of the characters are on trial for a crime that will eventually be committed. It’s a storytelling device that promises more thrills than the film is actually going to provide, and mostly it gives Farahani the opportunity to ask pertinent questions that most horror movies would have left dangling, like how our protagonists’ parents eventually feel about this whole fiasco going on right under their noses.

So we spend most of The Waiting waiting for something to happen, and trying to piece together the real mystery: an old man’s life. So it must be said that James Caan is marvelous here, playing a character with a rich inner world whose life is being interpreted (or misinterpreted) by juvenile monsters without an iota of context. The Waiting makes you wonder if Mr. Grainey is an evil man, a criminal, a psychopath, and when all is finally revealed it must be said that James Caan played it exactly right from beginning to end.

The Waiting doesn’t work as a thriller, and yet it tries so hard to thrill that it doesn’t work as a serious drama. And that’s a shame because as a serious drama, it has an intriguing storyline. There is some meaningful commentary here about how we judge our neighbors, and the way our trivial and sometimes grotesque insensitivities can have egregious consequences. But instead of focusing on the part of the story that matters, The Waiting focuses on unsympathetic teenagers and the nuts and bolts of faking a ghost attack, which are briefly diverting at best, and the whole movie suffers as a result.

 


William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.

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