When We Dance the Music Dies Movie Review
Written by Stuart D. Monroe
Released by ADL Films
Written and Directed by Anthony de Lioncourt
2019, 63 minutes, Not Rated
William Ragsdale as Tom Walton
Catherine Mary Stewart as Helen Walton
Theresa Moriarty as Audrey Walton
Emily Stokes as Carol
Eric Roberts as Clayton Riggs
Robert Cappucci as Elliot
The beauty of horror is that it isn’t just one thing. Horror can be a killer who stalks you in your dreams; a creature from the depths of Hell; an unstoppable mass murderer; a drippy demon with an infectious scratch; the horde of undead flesh eaters; or an immortal clown from outer space. Which one is the most effective? That varies from person to person, but there’s a language we all speak: the horror where the pain and fear are one hundred percent grounded in reality.
In the case of writer/director Anthony de Lioncourt’s gloriously grainy and synth-soaked gem, When We Dance the Music Dies, the horror is that of a missing daughter and a mysterious cult.
Tom Walton (William Ragsdale; Fright Night) and his wife, Helen (Catherine Mary Stewart; Night of the Comet), adore their daughter, Audrey (Theresa Moriarity; Dead Sound). When she suddenly disappears without a trace or the slightest clue, their life is left in ruins. A year passes with no leads, and Tom is a wrecked man. Helen leaves him, unable to deal with the shell that he’s become. He reaches out to Audrey’s best friend, Carol (Emily Stokes; Primal Instinct), and finally turns up a lead – private letters from the infamous cult leader of The Hive Mind of the 4th Tabernacle, Clayton Riggs (Eric Roberts; The Dark Knight; Clinton Road). It turns out that Audrey was in a very dark place at the time, and she played a dangerous game, an urban legend called the Elevator to Another World. What Tom learns from Riggs, and the fallout from it, will lead him into a spiral of grief and fatal curiosity that can only end one way.
From the first frame, When We Dance the Music Dies lets you know that you’re not watching your average popcorn flick with a slick veneer and dislikable teens. There’s a fever dream aesthetic to the cinematography and the score that feels a bit like a cosmic giallo. I didn’t heavily research the cast before taking this one; I was so taken in by the trailer that I didn’t realize that was William Ragsdale! And not only do you get Charlie friggin’ Brewster from Fright Night, but you also get Regina from Night of the Comet AND Hollywood’s most recognizable supporting badboy, Eric Roberts?!! If I were to insert a GIF here, it would surely be the commercial from Robocop: “I’d buy that for a dollar!!”
I find myself wanting to play Elevator to Another World now. The VFX on what lies beyond our reality are essentially what Lovecraft would see if he took a little acid and played with a kaleidoscope. It’s not in-your-face tentacles and goop; it’s more of a Rorschach from Hell asking, “What do you see in the pretty colors?” And that chick that shows up in the elevator that you’re absolutely not supposed to talk to? They wouldn’t have to worry about me talking to her. She’s firmly on the “fuck no” side of freaky.
When We Dance the Music Dies will be called “arthouse”, and that isn’t entirely inaccurate. However, it’s also harshly grounded. Ragsdale turns in a monster performance as the father who can’t get away from the hole in the middle of his soul left vacant by his missing daughter. I have a teenage daughter, and the truth in this performance is gut-wrenching. Therein lies the horror – there’s literally nothing scarier than losing your kid. Not knowing why or how makes it unbearable on an entirely different level. That’s true horror that no masked psycho can match even with the biggest machete.
The pacing is slow and deliberate, and there are always people who will be put off by that. There’s justification for that response here. With a run time that’s barely over an hour, it feels considerably longer. While there’s far too much to love on the whole, the slowness is noticeable. Patience, as they say, is required. Additionally, how you’ll feel about the ending will all depend on whether or not you’re a parent and can relate to where this particular horror lives. It ends how it is supposed to, but I still wanted a little more.
Still, there’s no denying that Anthony de Lioncourt has created a singular vision that holds you spellbound. I won’t forget his name (and not just because it makes me think of Lestat!). Something tells me he’s going to be knocking us on our asses before too long in the same way that Ari Aster and Jordan Peele have in recent years.
Now, how did that go? 2nd floor, 6th floor, 4th floor…
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