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“People see what they’re looking for,” Keir Gilchrist’s Sean poetically warns us early on in Kasra Farahani’s misguided thriller, The Waiting. Perception is a key theme to this film and also what fuels the asinine bedroom experiment of two dickhead teenagers with a nagging case of ageism.
Legendary veteran actor James Caan stars as Harold Grainey, a grumpy next door neighbor whose only real crime at face value is that he doesn’t want anything to do with anyone on his street. (Who could blame him?) Sadly, Sean and his Michael Pitt-wannabe pal Ethan (Logan Miller) can’t handle this, so they come up with this harebrained idea to stage a haunting in the poor guy’s house, rigging up all sorts of mechanical tricks and cameras to conjure up some good ol’ Hollywood magic.
To their credit, the whole things works like a charm. Doors slam repeatedly, an old record player turns on, windows break, lights turn on and off, and it’s frightening stuff if you see it through Grainey’s eyes. Oh, but you do: Farahani is quite liberal crosscutting between the story’s varying point of views, moving from the action at hand, to the installed cameras, to Grainey’s own memories, to an ensuing court case that takes place after the fact.
This manic style offers the film all of the necessary intrigue to make its story captivating, but it’s at the expense of being incredibly manipulative to its audience. What’s more, this stylistic decision fumbles the tone of the movie, as it crudely oscillates from being a thriller to a drama to a horror to back to being a thriller to a drama again to eventually a ham-fisted shame play.
Sadly, Caan offers an extraordinary late career performance, but it’s lost in this erratic sequencing. He’s conveniently a villain in one scene and then a personable husband in another, a total 180 that should elicit plenty of head shaking. Gilchrist echoes his natural performance in David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows from last year, only he’s straddled with some not-so-natural dialogue that huffs and puffs with exhausting exposition.
It’s a shame because The Waiting really does have a lot going for it. The setup leaves us fairly compromised, and there’s an exciting wonder to that, specifically how we have no idea where this could go. As Sean and Ethan’s experiment inches on, it’s easy to suspect that the whole thing could turn into a supernatural Blumhouse production, and in hindsight, especially given the conventions used, it’s a shame it never does.
Instead, screenwriters Mark Bianculli and Jeff Richard are too obsessed with driving their freshman thesis home, to the point that they fracture their own storytelling by overstuffing the narrative. It’s kind of ironic; for a film that’s all about perspective, you’d think they’d at least get that facet right, but no, they hop from the past, the present, and into the mind of a dead man with ease. By the end, you start feeling like Grainey yourself, enough that you kind of want to stand up and scream, “Get off my lawn, you goddamn film!”