The film follows a writer and his daughter as they move to this locale to help him work on his latest piece of literature. But there is a hidden trauma in its past that seeps in and begins to influence the pair, as well as the community they now inhabit.
Playhouse opens well, with a strong first act that effectively crafts a claustrophobic mood. The film spends the time establishing its characters and, initially seems to have a diverse ensemble with enough likeable elements to offset some of the more abrasive figures in the narrative. There is humour here early on as personalities clash and the Watts weave a crackingly tension into their film as mystery builds and a duplicity exists between a range of characters. Early on this feels like it may be an exceptional horror film.
Unfortunately things become increasingly muddy as Playhouse struggles to find a path to its conclusion. Grace Courtney is outstanding as the moody teen daughter, with a great taut chemistry with William Holstead (who plays the writer at the centre of the film). Regrettably Courney’s part recedes in the second half before mostly disappearing from proceedings, with the film instead focusing on Holstead’s character. Holstead plays the rather dislikeable writer well but without a more human centre the film feels a bit lost and our interests begin to wane.
There are good supporting turns from Helen Mackay and James Rottger and the film finds some interesting material in exploring generational trauma, both immediate and more ancient. But the horror here doesn’t quite live up to the potential of the locale or the effective first act. The climax reaches an interesting point but the journey there is bumpier then you’d like. But still this shows potential in the Watts Brothers and I’d be intrigued to see what they come up with next. Playhouse doesn’t always work but it makes for a fascinating genre calling card.