Three years after collaborating with Oscar-winning writer Damien Chazzelle on The Last Exorcism Part 2 (which was pre-Whiplash) director and writer Ed Gass-Donnelly returns home to Canada for his latest ghost suspense film, Lavender. The Toronto-born filmmaker has seen some acclaim for his other films shot in his own country, like Small Town Murder Songs, a crime thriller starring Peter Stormare in 2010 but most notably This Beautiful City, which earned four Genie Award nominations (Canada’s version of the Oscars). As of yet, Gass-Donnelly’s work in horror hasn’t made any ripples in the pond, which is a tad unfair to base on just The Last Exorcism sequel, a follow-up to a film that should have been left as a stand alone.
Lavender is, at its heart, a thriller about forgotten memories under the umbrella of the supernatural. The film follows Jane, a little girl that was the lone survivor of a bloody home invasion massacre. Now an adult, played by Limitless actress Abbie Cornish, Jane lives with her husband Alan (Pacific Rim’s Diego Klattenhoff) and their young daughter. Jane has close to zero recollection of the past trauma in her life but her work as a photographer, focusing on shots of farms and farmhouses, starts to draw her in. At the suggestion of her psychiatrist, played by usual comedy actor Justin Long, Jane decides to go back to the place of her family’s demise to try and piece together her past and get some closure. However, it appears that some unsettled spirits may have more sinister motives with her coming home.
Lavender works very well in dialing up the creep factor from the get go. Setting up the gruesome murders in the opening of the film, we are intrigued by the mystery of what actually transpired in Jane’s home and why she can’t remember anything. For the first two-thirds of the film, we are served a ramping up of intensity and, as an audience, we are expectant of a sizeable payoff that never really seems like it gets delivered. In all honesty, with all the dread that Gass-Donnelly alludes to throughout the story, there isn’t even a single moment of scares, aside from a couple cheap jump scares that seem more thrown in than to serve the narrative. As likable as Cornish is in the film, Jane’s tale never gets more interesting than it was at the beginning when we had zero information.
Unfortunately, it feels like it’s back to the drawing board for Ed Gass-Donnelly when it comes to constructing a horror story that stays true to the genre. Those that have seen The Last Exorcism Part 2 can attest to how low the bar had fallen after a brilliant first film and, like Lavender, the lead actress’s performance was the only thing noteworthy. The ending to Lavender makes you feel like you wasted a good part of an hour getting invested in Jane’s character only to get a pie of inconsequential fluff in the face at the end. 2/5