Some of the best horror is character-driven. There is so much to be found in interpersonal dynamics and the way that humans relate (or fail to relate) to one another. Even in stories that are grounded in reality and don’t feature supernatural elements or boogiemen can be downright terrifying when you begin to see elements of yourself or people that you may know within the faces of the real life monsters on screen.
To the Moon opens with a couple heading to a remote family cabin in the woods to enjoy some time alone together (because nothing bad ever happens with this scenario, right?). Between their struggling careers, substance abuse and a recent miscarriage, things between Dennis (Scott Friend) and Mia (Madeleine Morgenweck) have been strained. They are hoping to take some time to reconnect and get their marriage back on the right path.
Their solitude is interrupted when they find that Dennis’ brother Roger (Will Brill) has been staying at the cabin as well. The pair have a strained relationship and have had little contact over the past few years. Roger couldn’t be located when Dennis and Mia married, making this the first time Mia has actually met her brother-in-law. Old sibling rivalries and decades long friction between the brothers make this an uncomfortable reunion, but the trio decides to work with it.
Roger no longer seems to be the selfish monster that Dennis remembers from his younger days, and he seems genuinely interested in getting to know the couple. Through a few quick pieces of dialogue, we learn that Roger’s path has not been an easy one, but he seems to be on solid ground now, having embraced new philosophies and a more grounded way of living. He senses some of the pitfalls that Dennis and Mia have recently undergone and tries to offer his knowledge and support.
Mia opens up to him immediately, but it’s not as easy for Dennis. He remembers the version of Roger who was not so kind, not so helpful and not so caring. He has a hard time believing that his brother could have actually changed this much. Making matters worse is the fact that Dennis has recently sworn off drugs (for hopefully the last time) and is experiencing some rough withdrawal symptoms that make their interactions even more prickly than usual.
The weekend becomes a hotbed of paranoia, fueled by a lifetime of distrust. The character dynamics at play really work within the confines of this story. Dennis and Roger have so much unresolved baggage it’s no wonder they can’t connect, and that distrust grows into something much bigger as they spend more time together in this isolated setting.
Dennis can’t help but believe that Roger is working against him. Undermining his choices, flirting with Mia and pushing anecdote upon anecdote about peaceful living into every conversation. Roger swears this isn’t the case, and seems genuinely hurt by Dennis’ accusations and unwillingness to accept his help. Mia, caught in the middle, is frustrated by her husband’s lack of compassion.
The film is fueled by the drama between the characters, but the paranoia at the center of it all really starts to get under the skin of the audience. Like Dennis, we question much of Roger’s behavior. It might be well-intentioned, but some of it is downright odd, even for a self-styled lifestyle guru. But at the same time, it’s hard to fully trust what we are seeing onscreen, given Dennis’ suspicious outlook.
It’s a situation that would be tense under even the best of circumstances, but given the fact that everyone in the scenario is wounded and damaged in one way or another, the pressure soon becomes unbearable. The cast really sells it and the relationships being depicted feel very real. It’s a story that is very much grounded in our world, but it has many nightmarish elements that we might not want to see in ourselves.
Movie Score: 4/5