Starring: Osa Wallander, Rebeka Montoya, Elisa Eliot, Paula Thomas, Carla Valentine, and Rich Ward
Director: Dennis Devine
Steve's Rating: Seven of Ten Stars
Sexually abused as a child and hiding from a physically abusive husband, Paige (Wallander) sets out to get a fresh start in life while helping others who have hard lives. She goes to work as a counciler at a halfway house for girls intending to change the girls' lives by showing them kindness. However, the girls--ranging from abuse victims to hardened juveline delinquents to throw Paige's kindness back in her face and the mental strain causes her to crack. With a background darker and more twisted than any of the inmates in the halfway house, and a tendency to violence that makes the girls look like the children they are, Paige quickly becomes a threat to anyone who crosses her.
"Caregiver" a moody, realistic, well-acted psychological thriller, and it's easy to see why it won Best Picture at the "Phoenix Fear Film Festival" in December of 2006. Osa Wallander is particularly impressives as Paige, a troubled woman who wants to be a positive influence in the world but who is just too mentally disturbed herself to quite manage to be one. Wallander's ability to switch from sugar-sweet to psycho-bitch in a heartbeat is one of the best things about this movie.
Aside from the strong performances by all the film's lead actresses, "Caregiver" benefits from a strong scrpt that has a ring of truth to it. A relative of mine worked for a number of years in a facility exactly like the one in the movie--the layout even resembled it--and the behavior of the girls, staff, and management in "Caregiver" reminded me very much of the stories she used to tell. This sense of realism gives the film a grounding that few chillers manage these days... and it makes me wish that more filmmakers would take such care witih their scripts.
The film further benefits from a subtle, unobtrusive directing and filming style. There are no "look at me showing off my film degree" flourishes in the film. The camera is simply there to pass along the story to us. It's an approach that brings even more realism to the film.
The film is not without its flaws, though... and while many of the strengths of the film arise from the script, so does its weaknesses.
First off, the pre-title murder sequence is rather tepid and it had me fearing for what was to follow--it's the one bit of the movie where i felt the acting left a lot to be desired.
Second, there's a rather stylish and creepy scene where one of the characters commits suicide. While this is a nice set-piece that had me squirming a bit, it might have had more impact if we'd actually known more the character beforehand. It's also something that doesn't seem to be connected with anything else that happens in the film, except a bewildering "haunting" that happens around the halfway mark. That whole element (because it's not even really a subplot) of the film feels out of place and as if it's something that remains from an earlier draft of the script that no one wanted to get rid of. (The girl refusing to wear a shirt was a great establishing bit for the way these halfway houses are, but the other bits of business involving the character distract more than they add to the overall flow of the movie.)
Still, this is a well-done, worthwhile psychological thriller that works because it is populated by realistic characters who exist within a perfectly believable world. Sure, there are some things I could nitpick, but, overall, the film sets a reality and maintains it. This is itself quite a feat for moviemakers, as the last few horror movies I've seen that involved social workers or institutions (like "See No Evil" and "Asylum of the Damned") were both so incompetently written that anyone who's ever so much as read a newspaper would be unable to suspend their disbelief. (The strong sense of realism in the film also makes the one murder that doesn't occur in flashback startling and impactful.)