A lot of critics like to proclaim that women filmmakers are “on the rise” in Hollywood, but I find that wording to often feel degrading and lack accountability in the system. It’s not that women are suddenly deciding to become filmmakers en masse, it’s that women filmmakers are actually being taken seriously by the overwhelmingly straight, white, male gatekeepers of Hollywood, and, for once, are starting to inch their way up through the ranks of Hollywood to create things that aren’t just immediately and sexistly deemed “chick flicks,” as if Nancy Meyers doesn’t have more gravitas as a filmmaker than Woody Allen, which at this point, should be obvious. What’s most exciting about Hollywood finally getting their shit together and treating women like people for once (groundbreaking, I know) is that all genres are getting the love across the board with (comparatively) new, fresh viewpoints that are opening up the genre to tell stories in ways that mainstream horror has never been able to do before. At the forefront of the indie horror facet is Brea Grant, who, with her sophomore directorial feature, 12 Hour Shift, released to critical acclaim last year, is beginning to carve out a place as a burgeoning horror filmmaker (as well as a very accomplished actress). With Lucky, Grant works her magic both on the page and in front of the camera to create a surprisingly fun blend of visceral thriller and empowering tale of finding one’s inner strength.
May (Brea Grant) is a business author working on selling her second book to her publisher. Working to the bone to prove her worth to the board who decides the fate of her career, she is burnt out, yet hopeful. One night, she and her husband, Ted (Dhruv Uday Singh), are attacked by a mysterious man who broke into their home. May begins to experience mental torment after the man returns night after night, attacking her and immediately disappearing. Discounted by authorities and left alone by her husband, May must figure out the nature of this mysterious attacker before she is killed, or worse, loses her mind.
Grant, in a word, is illuminating as May. While the film starts a bit slow in establishing just how intense the stakes at hand are, there is a warmth and passion to May that makes her an incredibly likable protagonist. In fact, all of the characters in the film are really quite easy to root for, which is rare in an indie horror film of this nature. Grant brings both a wonderful scream queen vulnerability to the role, but the fire of a true movie star when the film gets to the nitty gritty and she digs deep to bring forth some truly empowering stuff, not this faux “I am woman hear me roar” baseline feminism that a male writer would bring to the piece, but truly gut-wrenching, moving empowerment that felt both organic and incredibly earned.
Directed by Natasha Kermani, Lucky has the feeling of a lot of late-era mumblecore films, without the exploitative nature of the mumblegore subgenre that built a life of its own. There’s an intimacy and grounding in the film to some sort of true reality that leaves the film feeling natural in its flow, but also incredibly unsettling when you begin to wonder what is real and what isn’t when everything could go either way feasibly. It begins to boggle your mind in a way that isn’t flashy or overtly obvious, but more so in a way that is believable and even more thrilling as a whole.
While I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way to call the film a straight-up horror film, it functions much more effectively as a psychological thriller with light supernatural elements to it, much in the way that The Invisible Man did last year. This leaves a lot more room, especially in its snippy 80-minute runtime (what a blessing) to dig deep into the broader messages of the film in women’s constant struggle to be believed by those around who are supposed to help them. It builds a strong, consistent base that, while a bit predictable at times and not particularly jaw-clenching, leaves a mark that you think about long after the credits roll.
I wasn’t sure what to think about Lucky at first, as I just couldn’t find myself really connecting to much in its first act, but perhaps that was the magic of it all when it grabbed onto me and dragged me across the floor with the film’s final two acts. It sinks its teeth into you and brings you along for a ride that is both emotionally resonant and genuinely entertaining at the same time. It’s not overtly heavy, nor does it discount its important message simply for cheap scares, but rather molds it into something much more streamlined and effective. It’s efficient to a T, doesn’t bullshit with you, and, while its ending leaves a little to be desired, Grant gives you one hell of a performance the entire way. Not a bad day for genre fans.
Available on Shudder March 4th, 2021.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.