The Twin (109 minutes, Shudder). 2 stars
There are a lot of horror movies featuring scary children. The juxtaposition of (expected) innocence and evil is compelling and enjoyably macabre to watch - think of movies like The Bad Seed, Village of the Damned, The Exorcist (though in that case, the devil made her do it), The Good Son and The Omen.
A creepy kid is one of the elements that seems to make up The Twin, now screening on Shudder.
But the film - directed by Taneli Mustonen, who co-scripted with producer Aleksi Hyvrinen - mixes up a bunch of tropes from and allusions to other, usually better, horror movies, among them The Other, Rosemary's Baby and Midsommar.
The Twin begins abruptly with a car accident in the US in which young Nathan is killed. His parents, Rachel (Aussie actress Teresa Palmer from Ride Like A Girl, among many others) and Anthony (Scottish actor Steven Cree) and Nathan's twin brother Elliott (Tristan Ruggeri) move to Finland to try to make a fresh start.
But it's clear that Rachel is still deep in the depths of grief and she's understandably protective of Elliott, not wanting to let him out of her sight (he, being a kid, seems to delight in running off).
While the family is on a boat ride, Elliott discovers a wall said to grant wishes and secretly makes one of his own. Shortly thereafter he begins talking to someone invisible and behaving strangely in other ways, at one point claiming he is Nathan.
As if that wasn't disturbing enough, at a welcome party held by the locals, Rachel meets an intense older English woman, Helen (Barbara Marten), who intimates she has some secret, perhaps supernatural, knowledge and says the town is part of an evil cult.
Why Finland? The reason is that's where character Anthony's heritage is, but it's also where director Taneil Mustonen is from, which is as good a reason as any, I suppose. This is one of those international co-productions that's (mostly) in English with an eye to the international (especially US) audience.
Some of the acting is good, particularly Palmer as the deeply unhappy and increasingly paranoid Rachel. The cinematography is atmospheric - outdoor scenery is shown to good advantage, both coldly beautiful and eerie, and the interiors are dark and moody.
But the film has problems.
Even if the audience hasn't guessed the Big Twist, the film reveals it well before the ending.
It doesn't work the effective way the classic Vertigo did: despite a credulity-stretching story, that film was masterfully handled and changed gears from spooky mystery to agonising suspense adroitly.
This one, deliberately paced, grinds along after the big reveal to a climax that feels a bit silly.
The ending itself, if predictable, is effective enough.
Despite its derivative nature, The Twin could have explored some of its ideas more thoroughly for good results. Marriage, parenthood, grief, childhood, outsider status, small towns - all these can and have been well used in horror movies.
While it's disappointing, The Twin at least feels like it's made with some care and concern, more than the calculation of its co-production status might imply.
At the very least it is passable entertainment for those who want to try something that's more psychological horror than splatterfest, or for genre buffs who could make a drinking game out of spotting all the references.
But if you do decide to try the latter, stick to sips rather than sculls, or you'll be very, very ill by the time the film is over (assuming you make it that far). And that would be scary indeed.