When making a horror within the subgenre of Nazi experimentation, one has to be careful about taste. And with a title subtly referencing Anne Frank, I’ve certainly seen better executions than this. But is it better to be tasteless than toothless when tackling such incendiary real-life horror and using history as a lens for fictional storytelling? From Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1975) to Overlord (2018), filmmakers have found that horror reveals the evil we’re all capable of, and no-one explored those amoral depths more than the Nazis. Stay Out of the F**king Attic moves on from retreading history to remind us that Nazis are back, baby! Unfortunately, in doing so these filmmakers are retreading horror history in making a ineffectual blend of The Evil Dead (1982) and Don’t Breathe (2016) that never reaches the shock of putting fuck in the title.
A Shudder original, Stay Out of the F**king Attic is a straightforward story of three ex-cons, now professional movers, who are tasked with emptying a suburban mansion before sunrise for their excessively German client (Michael Flynn). Running at a svelte 80-minutes including credits, we never stray from the immediate premise, and yet, as these characters race the clock to get their job done, I was watching time pass wondering when the story was going to start unpacking some real entertainment.
It’s a shame to criticise a movie so much then when the characters aren’t the problem. The establishing dialogue sequences are exceptionally blunt, but after all the recent indie horror I’ve been watching that was refreshing! Characters outright explain their entire arcs are single sentences: Carlos (Bryce D. Fernelius) gets immediate sympathy points for dropping his daughter’s college fund into every conversation, Schillinger (Ryan Francis) is a “second chance motherfucker” which obviously goes for himself, and Imani (Morgan Alexandria)… well, they start to explore the stereotype of angry black women, but as we’ll see this film doesn’t allow for much aggression to be demonstrated.
The character work for an old-school throwback is surprisingly decent and provides an interesting take on the current climate of Nazism being back in fashion. Schillinger is revealed to be making amends for his own shitty history when Carlos notices neo-Nazi insignias tattooed on his arm, as he buckled in prison and joined the Aryan brotherhood to survive. But now he’s out and all three of them share one similarity of oppression in that people who’ve done hard time are not welcome back in society. Writer-director Jerren Lauder, along with his co-writers Jason Scott Goldberg, Jesse Federman, and Julie Auerbach, are tackling several culture issues here, and it’s for the most part promising. But like too many cooks in a kitchen, or too many Nazis in the Reichstag, the film loses all focus from one intended goal and amasses into a jumbled vague idea of redemption.
However, the main focus should be bloody good fun! We’ve got the raised stakes of thousands of dollars if they get everything done overnight… the ominous warning to never go in the attic or basement… and these people are packing up ever more suspicious German WWII memorabilia. I mean sure, the old man has medical books with signed letters from Joseph Mengele, but what old house isn’t full of birth certificates, security cameras, and bright red doors with swastikas painted on them? And our trio only ever sees the first of those before officially declaring that there must be “monsters” hidden in the attic, so this is feeling more Scooby-Doo than Green Room (2015). The problem is there’s only one standout moment of horror when they go into the “fucking attic”, and beyond that F**king Attic is really quite boring.
A monster runs around for a bit, banging on doors and scaring people, the Nazi does some slightly wince-inducing eye surgery, someone gets shot, and a guy gets trapped in some gas. That is pretty much all of the action in this film and none of it is much more exciting than how I plainly wrote it out. For a film leaning on actual atrocities, Lauder goes shockingly light on visceral horror. My guess is they couldn’t spray gore and viscera around the expensive Victorian mansion they were shooting inside. Weirder still is the pacing, as two of the three characters are restrained downstairs leaving one guy alone for most of the second act, and even then that person becomes trapped in a different room.
The two notable moments that veer closest to effective horror also invite the most criticism. One involves a literal gas shower that borders on tastelessness only because this film promises an entertaining romp and instead drags us through a slow, painful torture that then has no emotional payoff. The other involves the experiment found in the attic, which I won’t spoil because I found it to be the most intriguing story element, and yet this subject receives no growth or establishment.
In hindsight, the lack of balls to title Stay Out of the Fucking Attic accordingly, within the movie itself, despite a lot of expletives being dropped by characters, says it all.
USA | 2020 | 80 MINUTES | 2.35:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH
Cast & Crew
director: Jerren Lauder.
writers: Julie Auerbach, Jesse Federman, Jason Scott Goldberg & Jerren Lauder.
starring: Ryan Francis, Michael Flynn, Bryce Fernelius, Morgan Alexandria & Avery Pizzuto.