What to Watch Verdict
'Masquerade' is as paint-by-numbers a criminal caper you'll witness this year, lacking the ambition to take big swings and execution to sell simplicity.
🖼️ Under 90 minutes.
🖼️ Completes its basest objective.
🖼️ There's no pop of life.
🖼️ Bella Thorne is wasted.
🖼️ So very uninspired.
🖼️ The dictionary definition of dull.
Shane Dax Taylor’s Masquerade marquees itself on the star power of Bella Thorne, which ends up being a cataclysmic fizzle. There’s nothing distinguishable between this and home invasion flicks of yesteryear, despite an unintentionally hilarious The Usual Suspects moment where the twist reveals itself with some special kind of unearned impact. In the grand scheme of cardinal cinematic sins, Masquerade commits the worst one—it’s forgettable. A daughter home alone, invaders in all-black outfits, and an objective that’s never anything more than perceived classism commentary without the stinging sensation of any searing impression.
Casey (Alyvia Alyn Lind) watches horror movies with her babysitter while father Daniel (Austin Nichols) and mother Olivia (Mircea Monroe) sip drinks at a distillery masquerade soirée. The couple represents the most famous local art brokers, with pieces displayed in their gated estate. Tonight, while Casey is most vulnerable, someone dares cut the power and attempts to steal their priceless pieces adorning wall displays. Waitress Rose (Bella Thorne) offers Daniel and Olivia a ride home from their fancy social occasion if only to keep close tabs on the influential socialites so all goes according to her criminal plan.
I think of the ways movies like Adam Schindler’s Intruders or Fede Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe have flipped the home break-in scenario on its battered head, and how Masquerade refuses to engage with any flourishes of originality. Or maybe how something like Miguel Ángel Vivas’ Kidnapped proves straightforward lockbox narratives like these can succeed with the appropriate establishment of tension, and Masquerade doesn’t even reach that level. It’s a shame how little the cast has to do, whether that’s the baddies who are boilerplate henchmen and henchwomen or a panicked child in Lind’s Casey, who spends a long stretch hiding in a wood-planks-and-insulation attic. You’ve presented a thriller architecture, now where are the thrills?
Maybe it’s the cleanness in which cinematographer Mark Rutledge presents moments of danger, never benefitting from the chaos or dread that should exist. Without lights illuminating hallways or foyers, this colder blueness remains monotone while framing allows empty space in multiple shots. Casey’s relatable fears never feel claustrophobic or trapped, rather moodless as the two thieves—one a more violent male, the other a compassionate woman who wants to keep Casey alive—reason with their hostage. Then Rose arrives with the deed unfinished, and we encounter a tad more bloodletting than previously shown outside an opening hammer bludgeon death. Although, again, it’s all rather uninspired and lacking suspenseful moods. That’s calculating in the significant “reveal” that’s far too late to matter.
It’s Bella Thorne’s ability to chew the country-renegade gristle of Chad Faust’s Girl that led to my intrigue over Masquerade, but this is hardly the same Thorne. She’s touted as a mastermind, but there’s nothing remarkable about her devious performance. It’s supposed to be a more grounded smash-and-grab job, given the ties that connect Rose and Daniel. Still, even at that, Thorne’s personality in titles like Girl and The Babysitter shows me there’s a vastly more domineering screen presence locked behind her current stony presentation. Even Rose’s grand “you don’t remember me” monologue washes over like Thorne’s reading directly from her script, and Lind isn’t much better as the other performatively taxed actor in Masquerade. Across the board, no character stands out beyond their rigid development, nor does Taylor coax anything more than copy-and-paste presences from his cast—which is disappointing given how much work goes into the filmmaking process.
Masquerade is an unmoving and mundane criminal thriller that wastes Bella Thorne in a role that, frankly, any actress could embody. That’s not a shot at talent, but more at a production I wouldn’t even label “Vanilla Bean” as an ice cream flavor—maybe “Vanilla Product?” Shane Dax Taylor’s rendition of a brutal burglary lacks lingering qualities that brew into something more than just another body-count hellraiser (minus the hellraising). I can list even more titles than what’s above that play this same tune with a malevolent melody you can’t rattle from your noggin—I can’t name the forgotten ones comparable to Masquerade, which unfortunately will become a ghost like all the rest.
Matt Donato is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic who stays up too late typing words for What To Watch, IGN, Paste, Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria and countless other publications. He is a member of Critics Choice and co-hosts a weekly livestream with Perri Nemiroff called the Merri Hour. You probably shouldn't feed him after midnight, just to be safe.
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