Lace Crater

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday July 29, 2016

Lace Crater

There's a late-night horror funhouse feel to Harrison Atkins' nifty fantasy/thriller/ghost story flick "Lace Crater," and it springs out of the screen at you with a blare of synth and a title done in graphics that are a little loopy and a little creepy all at once.

A group of five friends are on their way to the Hamptons for the weekend. Along the way the two girls -- Ruth (Lindsay Burdge) and Claudette (Jennifer Kim) -- compare notes on the hunky, soulful-looking Andrew (Andrew Ryder), a guy whose killer man-bun makes him almost as irresistible as his wounded, merely-single status does. (The other two males are just along for comic color, evidently, and to share an anecdote about encountering a strange woman while traveling overseas.)

The five settle into their rooms, as assigned by Andrew, with Ruth volunteering to stay in the supposedly haunted guest house. After a boozy night of hot tubbing and popping party drugs, Ruth returns to her room only to find out that Andrew wasn't joking about there being a spectral presence. His name is Michael, he seems to live in the closet, and he turns out to be a perfectly nice guy aside from the fact that he's wrapped up in burlap like a DIY version of "The Mummy."

Once Ruth is assured that Michael isn't a burgler -- he proves his ghostly bona fides by disappearing and then re-materializing -- she decides that he's kind of cute. The fact that he haunts a closet doesn't mean that Michael is actually in the closet; he's a heterosexual ghost, and before long the clothes (and the burlap) come off, and the new friends are off to the races.

At first the encounter seems sweet enough, fun if a little strange, and something to look back on fondly. But then Ruth starts coming down with odd symptoms -- vomiting, hallucinations, lost time... could it be a result of the drugs she took? Was her night of passion with the ghost also just a chemically induced fever dream? But the thing is, she doesn't have a fever -- and her symptoms only get worse over the next few days.

Then things really start getting strange. A visit to a doctor (William Nadylam) yields a diagnosis of a rare STD, and a prescription for some sort of horrible, voodoo-medicine-like treatment (it actually comes in a regular looking prescription bottle). Could any of this be real?

Worse, a visit to Andrew's house goes wrong. It turns out that Andrew is attracted to Ruth in turn, but Claudette, thinking that Ruth isn't interested in him after all, has begun making plans of her own. Something happens -- exactly what, Ruth isn't sure; damn those bouts of delirium and subsequent blackouts! -- and things between the friends get awkward. That, of course, if the precise moment Ruth's ex, Dean (Joe Swanberg) chooses to re-introduce himself to Ruth's life, never quite apologizing for the fact that he had been seeing someone else on the side while they were together.

The film is listed at IMDB as "Comedy, Drama, Fantasy," and it partakes of all those genres; it also dips a toe into a few other wells (including throwing a hilarious porno-sounding burst of synth music into the mix during the scene of ghost sex). This flick is one hair away from being truly chilling, but Atkins keeps his touch light even when he's employing all his tricks to keep you off-balance, showing us Ruth's disorientation through a mix of sound distortion, VCR-gone-bad looking visuals, and cleverly deployed moments of disjointed editing.

The production often looks and sounds cheap (That synth! Those camera angles! That lens!) but just as often it rises above technical limitations. Burdge carries the movie and makes it work, and Vack and Ryder prove themselves to be no slouches, either. The script adds a touch of real horror in and understated twist (just why does Michael hint that guest house?) and offers some clever new ideas on the ghost story genre. (It turns out that Michael's burlap isn't some sort of emblem of damnation; he's just handy with a sewing machine.)

If you like your ectoplasm served up with a ghost of a smile, this is a horror flick for you.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.