By it’s title, you’d think DEADLY INTENT would be some kind of direct-to-video Steven Seagal movie, but there’s nary a roundhouse or uppercut to be found within. Instead, what we have here is a British supernatural “thriller” in the vein of THE BABADOOK. To be fair, they could have chosen much worse films for inspiration, as that was arguably one of the best horror films of the past several years. DEADLY INTENT, however, is not.
The story concentrates on a broken family; Bryony’s (Rebecca Reaney) husband dies at war leaving her and young son James (Gus Barry) to fend for themselves. What begins as bad dreams soon becomes something more sinister, as it’s apparent that James’ father has returned from the dead to take his son with him into the netherworld… or something like that, I think.
This is a film on a smaller scale and a lower budget than an episode of “Eastenders.” It has all the visual appeal of a home video, which is not to say it’s poorly framed, or shot incompetently; it’s just not very dynamic or inspiring to look at. The majority of the runtime takes place in the confines of regular looking houses, without much effort made to light it in an atmospheric way beyond some night scenes that looked like they were strained through a blueberry.
DEADLY INTENT is billed as slow-burn horror, which means you need to have the patience of a Benedictine monk to get to the action. When the hauntings happen, they’re suitably low budget and trite, with “scary” things like a bit of the ceiling falling apart, or mysteriously locked bathroom doors, or a few pens falling off a counter-top. At some points you’ll be questioning whether the family’s house is really haunted, or just badly in need of repair.
None of it is particularly exciting, and it’s not helped by the droning monotonous hum of the electronic soundtrack. The sound effects themselves lack heft, diminishing what should be jump scares into nothing more than slight twitches of the nostril. Everything is very low-fi, and although I found some of the old-style reverse photography effects to be charmingly quaint, this is 2017, and it won’t impress the target audience.
With so many films of its ilk populating streaming services, it’s going to be a stretch for DEADLY INTENT to stand out. The scares just aren’t there. As a matter of fact, the film lacks what I’d call a “scare structure”. A successful supernatural horror film will start with small hauntings, and ratchet up the tension as things gradually escalate into pants-shitting ghost-fuckery.
In this film, one minute the entire house is shaking. Things are falling off the shelves, the family is panicking. The family should be terrified and ready to get the hell out as soon as possible. In the next scene, everyone is eating breakfast and having a good laugh. What the hell is wrong with these people? Not only is there a lack of tension-building, the characters don’t react realistically over the course of the film.
In the final stages of the story – when it’s been clearly established without a shadow of a doubt that a haunting is occurring – the characters pull out a Ouija board in an attempt to find out if there actually IS a haunting occurring. They are then SHOCKED when the glass they were using as a planchette shatters. Come on, now! The narrative structure is way off. I’m not saying that breaking formula in a such a beaten-horse subgenre is a bad idea, but sometimes failing to adhere just comes across as incompetence.
The problems are amplified by the movie just ending as though the production ran out of money. There’s no satisfying ending or climax. Just credits. The movie is also incredibly short. If I had to say something positive about DEADLY INTENT, it’s that the performances aren’t terrible all of the time. And there’s no Steven Seagal.