2017 Los Angeles Film Festival: How do you move on once your only child dies? This horrific question has been addressed in what now amounts to almost a subgenre of films. One would never expect horror producer Jason Blum to be the one to tackle that question. Sure the “Insidious” franchise has put many a child in danger. However, how does one make a horror film centered around a child’s death without making it exploitive? The simple answer is, you don’t make a straight horror film. Instead, Blum produces in “The Keeping Hours” a supernatural drama and romance that continues to evolve as the brisk ninety minute running time unfolds. The film is a moving and emotional journey, and even manages a jump scare or two for healthy measure.
Mark (Lee Pace) and Elizabeth (Carrie Coon) set out to have a seemingly perfect wedding, with their precocious five year old Jacob (Sander Thomas) in tow. However, tragedy strikes and Jacob is killed in a car crash. Years later, Mark and Elizabeth are separated and have moved about the grieving process in different ways. Mark has drowned himself in work. Elizabeth has re-married, gained two stepdaughters, and written a best-seller. After some tenants trash their old family home, Mark returns to clean out the attic and sell the place. However, while there, he sees Jacob everywhere. It seems his son still has unfinished business to attend to. He goads Elizabeth to join him in order to see their son. As the both of them realize their son is shockingly real while they are in the house, both begin to spend more and more time with their ghost child.
In many ways this film could have veered into schmaltz. However, writer Rebecca Sonnenshine has other plans for the material. The blending of supernatural elements with raw family drama and a burgeoning romance flies off the page onto the screen. What’s more, there are quite a few plot revelations that all organically arise as the film moves along. It’s an involving watch that still doesn’t forget to enjoy the quiet moments. Director Karen Moncrieff seems to revel in these wonderful scene that construct this warm, loving family dynamic. The grief between Mark and Elizabeth is quite palpable. However, while around their child, all the pain seems to dissipate. Quickly you see that they need this vision of their child to be true more than their child needs a parent.
Putting Lee Pace and Carrie Coon together sounds like what niche film Twitter puts down on a casting mad lib. Unsurprisingly, the results are as amazing as one would imagine. Both paint a detailed picture of this couple’s life together both before and after their tragedy. Their chemistry is off the charts. They are able to bounce accusations and hurt onto each other like people who have known each other for decades. From there, they can do an about face and play together with their child while still channeling an undercurrent of grief. Pace announces himself as a heartthrob movie star. Coon, meanwhile, channels the steely resolve of her “Leftovers” character while also showing us tremendous warmth. Can we get both of these actors in more projects ASAP, please?
The film may not be perfect. Ana Ortiz’s medium/dog walker sticks out a bit as she suggests a possible earlier direction for the film. Yet, it’s hard not to get wrapped up in the emotional story. Moncrieff and Sonnenshine have a strong hold on the tone they want to achieve with the film, and it radiates on the screen. Adding in a pitch perfect Pace and Coon, and you have a can’t miss film. Distribution details have not been announced for the film yet. However, producer Jason Blum will hopefully ensure that this indie film finds the large audience it deserves.
“The Keeping Hours” premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival. For more Los Angeles Film Festival coverage, visit the Festivals section.