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'Stay Out Of The Attic' Review: How bad are horror characters at following rules?

Jerren Lauder's 'Stay Out Of The Attic' is an adequate-at-best interpretation of haunted house horrors as movers accept what might be their last job.

You should 'Stay Out Of The Attic.'
(Image: © Shudder)

Our Verdict

'Stay Out Of The Attic' is a dangerous warning that amounts to thrills best suited for uninitiated horror first-timers; veterans will find themselves walking all-too-familiarly unspectacular hallways.

For

  • 🏠 Punishes Nazis.
  • 🏠 Attempts social commentary about reform.
  • 🏠 Punctuated horror.

Against

  • 🏠 Too familiar.
  • 🏠 Excitement is minimal.
  • 🏠 Ideas only get as far as "enough."

There’s a certain level of respect titles like Stay Out Of The Attic earn for adhering to advertisements. Characters enter an ominously framed estate, are told to stay out of the “f**king” attic, and should have stayed out of the “f**king” attic. Jerren Lauder embraces the basest haunted house architectures down to creaky brass knobs and outdated furnishings that hastily upset nervous targets. Horror fans won’t glimpse anything revolutionary, but the film’s themes around convict reform and evils hiding in plain sight are provocative enough for bash-the-door-down pacing that Lauder optimizes. “Serviceable” is the word here, but not in an entirely derogatory manner.

Schillinger (Ryan Francis) runs a tight ship at Second Chance Moving, a business dedicated to helping ex-convicts seeking honest work. Imani (Morgan Alexandria) and Carlos (Bryce Fernelius) are two such employees, both present for Schillinger’s latest contract. The elderly Vern (Michael Flynn) welcomes his hired movers inside, where he offers four-times their agreed-upon rate, plus another thousand-dollar bonus if Schillinger’s crew can clear his first two floors by morning. The only catch? Don’t enter either the basement or attic. Carlos voices concern, but Imani convinces Schillinger it’s an easy payday. Well, it should be an easy payday—until someone breaks Vern’s simplest of instructions.

With such a pointed title, you’re right to assume Lauder’s execution mirrors lacking subtlety. As if “Second Chance Moving” wasn’t obvious enough a statement, introductory banter between Carlos, Imani, and Schillinger highlights once-upon-a-time criminals talking about the hardships of escaping jailhouse stigmas. Carlos smiles at his daughter’s image via smartphone screen for inspiration; Schillinger exposes white supremacy tattoos as remembrances of an “unclean” lifestyle he presumably regrets. Stay Out Of The Attic launches into social commentary without any objection, and while it’s heavy like a demolition squad’s sledgehammer, Lauder attempts a thoughtful statement as these judged pariahs—villains to outsiders—are victimized by evils that have been allowed to exist under the guise of neighborhood normalcy.

Even if, as Schillinger’s hateful ink reveals more in-depth backstories outside of necessary prison factions, that conscious message gets blurred between the lines of right, wrong, and gruesome experimentation.

As the script builds its monster, Schillinger’s company uncovers blatant Nazi paraphernalia that reveals Vern as having ties to Hitler’s darkest classified operations. Vern engages a panic button that locks all the doors, Lugers are drawn, and Schillinger discovers what’s thumping above in the attic. Maybe there’s a hidden girl named Anne who needs rescuing (remember when I said this film isn’t subtle)? Perhaps there’s visceral catharsis as laborers brawl for their lives and punch Nazis square in the face? I can assure you there’s eye trauma, practical costume effects, and Nazi torture devices that defined Hitler’s massacres against Jewish innocents, just as I can assure you, it’s not without payoff.

Given the last four years of American political landscapes, dare I say we’ll be seeing Nazis as ultimate wrongdoers for quite an extended stretch?

Granted, Stay Out Of The Attic won’t leave you mystified or rattled beyond recovery. Performances are all aptly in-the-moment but par for the indie circuit course. Effects range from gnarly optical damage that squirts crimson juices to prosthetic mutations that I won’t illuminate further (nor could the film without exposing seams). Elements that might count as “scares” won’t spike adrenaline within battle-tested horror fans. At its simplest, Lauder delivers on lock-in frameworks that become a freakish gauntlet of obstacles unleashed by Vern, wound around a narrative that wallops bigotry in the teeth. There’s not much further to dissect, nor value. In, out, and bloody efficient.

Stay Out Of The Attic is beginner-grade horror cinema that’s spooky enough, frantic enough, and angry enough. It’s nothing that seethes or causes intense bouts of shaken reactions, nor does it understand horror on such a plateau. Any allure here derives from a very straightforward mission to beat the feces out of Nazi scum through a genre lens, like the cousin thrice removed from Overlord without equal financial support. Still, for anyone who thinks “spooky enough” is indeed enough? Stay Out Of The Attic unleashes a mad scientist with humanoid blueprints and eyeball enzyme obsessions who might be deranged enough to satisfy your fright-night craves.

Stay Out Of The Attic premieres on Shudder March 11, 2021. The film is produced by  Top Dead Center Films.