Shudder offers a whole host of horror to those who subscribe to their service, but we all know that in the time of increasing subscription streaming services it can’t be possible to be signed up to everything. And it looks like Shudder knows this too, as it’s releasing more and more of its movies onto DVD so that those who who can’t stream can check out what they do; and They Live In The Grey is the latest feature film to get a home release.
They Live In The Grey tells the story of Claire Yang (Michelle Krusiec), a woman dealing with grief. Over the course of the film’s opening minutes we begin to piece together what has driven this woman to try to take her own life, to self medicate, and to push her estranged husband away. The death of her son. The death of any child is traumatic enough, it’s a pain no one ever wants to contemplate, but it’s even worse when you’re able to see ghosts. Claire is haunted, literally and figuratively. Spirits wander in and out of her home, frightening her to the point where she locks herself away in her closet to sleep at night, nestled between the walls.
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In her day job, that she’s barely managing to hold onto, Claire works for Child Protective Services, and does her best to help families in need. Her latest case takes her to the Lang household, where she meets Sophie (Madelyn Grace), a young girl who keeps turning up to school with cuts and bruises. She claims it’s from skateboarding accidents, but Claire is sent in to find out if perhaps there’s something more sinister at the root of the problem. And when Claire discovers that there’s a ghostly presence in the home, she comes to believe that it may be the one that’s harming Claire.
Directed by the Vang brothers, They Live In The Grey is not really a ghost story, despite the prevalance of spirits that plague Claire. It’s a film about grief, about the effect that it has on people. Michelle Krusiec is the heart of this film, and almost every scene follows her exclusively. She’s the main focus, and the person who leads us through this story. And whilst she’s investigating the possible domestic abuse at the Lang house, and there’s a ghost there who may or may not be involved, this isn’t a woman who can see ghosts, coming in to save this family. They’re almost secondary. Claire is the important one here.
The fact that Claire can see ghosts is also downplayed somewhat, and there are points in the film where you begin to wonder if perhaps we’re not seeing spirits haunting her, but her psychosis. She takes an enormous amount of pills, and is still clearly wracked with trauma from the loss of her son. The film keeps its cards pretty close to its chest in regards to what’s really happening for much of the runtime, and doesn’t really give you too many answers until the last twenty minutes or so, having used the rest of its runtime to focus on characters.
Because of the heavy focus on her it’s not exaggeration to say that Michelle Krusiec carries the film. Her acting is great, and it’s not until we get flashbacks to the time before the loss of her son that you truly realise how much of a performance she’s giving. This woman who’s looked so incredibly tired and detached the entire film is suddenly filled with life and happiness when you see her in the past. There’s one scene in which we go back to Claire and her husband sitting with the funeral director, picking out the coffin for their young son, that is possibly the best scene in the film. Krusiec says nothing, she doesn’t engage with either man, but the way she stares off to the side, the way the muscles in her face keep twitching and flexing as she tries to hold herself together whilst tears flow out of her is the most powerful performance in the film. You believe the pain she’s going through, and its hard not to be affected by it as you watch this awful moment like some kind of voyeur.
Whilst the film is really good, and Krusiec is great in it, this isn’t just a review of the film, but of the DVD release. Sadly, this release is quite poor. Not only is the disc bare-bones, with a stills gallery being the only extra, but the video and audio quality is honestly quite awful. Having seen stills of the film online I know that the film looks good, but you can’t tell that from this DVD. The picture always looks out of focus, blurry, and indistinct, which makes some of the darker scenes difficult to see. There are times when the dialogue comes across as muffled and soft, and there are a couple of times where it sounds like people are talking into a glass jar, their voices echey and tinny.
The lack of quality control on the video and audio made it hard to fully enjoy the film, and definitely made the overall quality of the experience suffer. If you really want to watch this film and are able to access Shudder you’ll probably have a much better time doing it that way, as this new home release is far from the best way to watch.
They Live In The Grey is out now on DVD from Acorn Media International.