Day 12: Female-Helmed Horror Movies For October
Written and Directed by Stewart Thorndike (Yep, Stewart is a lady.)
1 hour, 2 minutes
I watched it on Amazon Prime.
Heavily inspired by “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Lyle” tells the story of a young family: Leah (Gaby Hoffman), June (Ingrid Jungermann) and their toddler daughter, Lyle (Eleanor Hopkins, such great kiddo casting), as they move on up into a Brooklyn brownstone, in anticipation of the birth of their second child and June’s growing success at a record company. Leah is the stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) and thus home far more than her ambitious wife, immediately starts to feel that something is off about their new home but her wife June dismisses those feelings. As a SAHM myself, I connected with the mundane struggles of unpacking at a new house while caring for a small child, as well as the complicated feelings that come with getting to spend all of your time with your child at home. You don’t have to miss or worry about your child in the same way but you don’t often trust your ability to see things clearly and connect with adults in the same way you did before motherhood. In short, it can be a real mind screw and “Lyle” takes that worry many, delightfully fuuuucked steps further. The unfair treatment of the SAHM as an overly emotional nuisance even within a lesbian couple is oddly refreshing. Seeing the unhealthy power dynamic that we typically see in straight couples in movies adds to the surprise of the film.
Hoffman is so primal and gloriously messy-haired and driven in this movie, I could not look away from her. I enjoyed the hell out of this movie, even if it made me anxious as hell as I watched Leah struggle to watch little Lyle as she toddles all over this enormous apartment. Being a parent, and especially a stay-at-home-parent, means living with constant vigilance and fear and even then, children get out of their cribs. They fall off the slide. They run into the street. They scare the shit out of us. And it’s our job to, at minimum, keep them alive. I’m obsessed by this theme of parental fear as a screenwriter myself so I just ate up the treatment of it in “Lyle.” Every write up on this film details the terrible thing that happens but I still won’t ruin it here. Suffice it to say, you can’t actually watch them every minute.
Like most horror films featuring a small child, it turns tragic and that’s where the real story of am-I-crazy or are-dark-forces-out-to-get-me begins. This is one of my personal favorite subgenres and Thorndike treats all of her characters with such empathy that it really sells that tension. Leah and June are full of rage and guilt and uncertainty and the strength of their characters helps to fill in the thin plot. There are a few expositional reveals that seemed so forced, I wonder if the characters who were supposed to be mysterious left the trail of breadcrumbs on purpose, to further fuck with poor Leah.
The film especially sails when Leah asserts herself and declares her ideas and needs and is gaslighted time and time again that she’s wrong, that she’s just emotional because of her pregnancy and her tragedy, because she’s home so much, a universal struggle I see over and over again in my SAHM circles and Facebook groups. Too many SAHM (and working moms, too, of course, but there’s something about the no-outside job that especially gives people permission to condescend) are stuck seeking validation, in our families, our workplaces, in social media, that we are still educated, capable grown-ups who should be valued and believed. The image of Leah, a late-term pregnant woman, sans make up, hair wild, looking up at her apartment building with great determination to prove herself will stay with me for a long time.
Word is the film was originally conceived for the web and had a brisk five-day shoot (shout out to that miracle-making crew!), so I’m guessing that’s why it’s only just an hour and two minutes. But the extreme length of the film really does it a disservice. The plot beats are just down to the essentials, without much breathing room to dream and wonder about what could be coming next. But I do dream and wonder of what could have been with at least a few more shooting days to add more material. But what they have here is fantastic. Thorndike brings an unsettling and yet still so domestic take to the material, leaving spaces empty just a touch longer after a character leaves the frame, shooting a tense two shoot via a dirty mirror. And oh man, that ending: what a fantastic play on the modern search for the perfect birth plan. That subtler visual style leaves me wanting much more not just from “Lyle” but from Thorndike and Hoffman as well.