Bill Chott, Bruce Dern, California, Chelsea Gilligan, Ellen Toland, horror, James Gaudioso, Mid-Century, Mike Stern, movies, reviews, Sarah Hay, Shane West, Sonja O'Hara, Stephen Lang
December 19, 2022
by Carla Hay
Directed by Sonja O’Hara
Culture Representation: Taking place in mainly in the fictional city of Mandarin, California, the horror film “Mid-Century” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Latinos, African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: Two spouses who are doctors move into a haunted house built in 1955 by an architect with a sinister past.
Culture Audience: “Mid-Century” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching boring and predictable horror movies.
“Mid-Century” does nothing unique or interesting in this witless and dreadfully dull story about ghostly revenge. The cast members’ performances are as flat and unremarkable as the wood panels of the mid-20th century house that spawned the movie’s title. It’s yet another formulaic movie about people who unwittingly move into a haunted house and find out too late what the house’s secrets are.
Directed by Sonja O’Hara and written by Mike Stern (who is the movie’s producer and who has a supporting role in the movie), “Mid-Century” doesn’t have an original concept, but it could have at least delivered a lot of suspense. Unfortunately, the movie fails on every level of horror entertainment. Instead of jump scares, “Mid-Century” is more like to bring big snores to people who waste any time watching this lackluster misfire.
“Mid-Century” begins by showing a renowed architect named Frederick Banner (played by Stephen Lang), sometime in the 1950s, in the fictional city of Mandarin, California. Frederick seems to be friendly when he greets his new neighbor Anthony Waxtan (played by James Gaudioso) when they’re outside: “How does the Mrs. like the neighborhood?” Anthony replies cheerfully, “She’s on cloud nine.”
Anthony’s wife Joanne Waxtan (played by Ellen Toland) might like the neighborhood overall, but she doesn’t like the way that Frederick has been leering at her. Joanne tells Anthony that she caught Frederick staring at her in the couple’s garden on a previous day. A concerned Anthony tells Joanne not to speak to Frederick.
Later, Anthony gives Joanne some lingerie as a gift. While she’s alone in the room, Joanne tries on the lingerie, while intruder Frederick lurks in the hallway and watches. Frederick then makes his presence known by creepily saying to Alice: “You and Anthony look so happy together. I admit, I haven’t felt like that since my Alice passed. You sure do look lovely, Joanne.”
A startled Joanne shouts for Anthony to help her. Frederick tells her, “Lower your voice, please. Don’t make me take off my belt.” It’s then that viewers see that Anthony can’t help Joanne. Anthony is outside the house, and he’s dead, hanging from a noose. It doesn’t take a genius to know who killed Anthony.
After “Mid-Century” reveals from its very first scene what Frederick was all about, it takes a sluggishly long time for the current residents of a Frederick Banner-designed house to discover his sinister past. The movie fast-forwards to the present day, when married couple Tom Levin (played by Shane West) and Alice Dodgeson (played by Chelsea Gilligan) have arrived in Mandarin to temporarily live in a house that was designed by Frederick Banner and built in 1955. Tom and Alice are both doctors who previously lived in San Diego, but they moved because Alice was sexually harassed by a supervisor named Dr. Volker (played by Bill Chott), and she quit her job over it.
Tom and Alice have rented the house for the weekend, but they might settle permanently in Mandarin if they like the area and if Tom can set up his own practice there. The house is owned by a weird man named Eldridge (played by Stern), an acquaintance of Tom and Alice’s who recommended the house to the couple. The trailer for “Mid-Century” already reveals what was supposed to be a surprise in the movie: Eldridge is really Frederick’s son, who grew up in foster care after his parents died. And you know what that means.
Later in the story, Tom and Alice find out that Frederick’s first wife Alice disappeared under mysterious circumstances in 1958. Frederick’s next wife was Joanne, the widowed neighbor whose husband was killed by Frederick. Joanne and Frederick died a month apart in 1983, in the same house where Tom and Alice currently live. Frederick passed away first. Joanne died of a heart attack.
“Mid-Century” is overstuffed with a multitude of horror clichés: It isn’t long before Tom and Alice find out that the house is haunted. The usual things happen: Dead people appear and disappear in ghostly form. The house’s current residents do research in old books and newspaper articles to try and find out the history of the house. And certain people in the story end up dead.
Two other characters are part of the story, but not in a very interesting way: Marie Verdin (played by Sarah Hay) is someone connected to Frederick’s past. The truth about Marie is incredibly predictable. Another name from Frederick’s past that comes up is Emil Larson (played by Bruce Dern, shown in flashbacks), who died in 1976, at the age of 92. Emil, who had a huge influence on Frederick, is described in the movie as an author, futurist, painter and agnostic mystic.
“Mid-Century” has a “reveal” about Frederick that is supposed to be shocking, but it’s really as bland and underwhelming as the rest of the movie. All of the cast members play their roles as if they’re going through the drab motions of people who just don’t care enough to give convincing performances. “Mid-Century” is so monotonous and lacking in creativity, it’s the type of dud that will be forgotten quicker than you can say, “Stupid horror movie.”
Lionsgate released “Mid-Century” in select U.S. cinemas on June 17, 2022. The movie was released on digital, VOD, Blu-ray and DVD on July 26, 2022. Peacock began streaming the movie on October 24, 2022.