Written by: Brea Grant
Directed by: Natasha Kermani
Starring: Brea Grant, Dhruv Uday Singh, and Leith M. Burke
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
"He keeps coming back."
Repetition and formula are baked into the slasher movie experience, so much so that I’ve probably started at least one review discussing this same topic. It’s the appeal of the genre—for the most part, you know what you’re getting with these things: a group of carefree teens or twentysomethings who encounter a (possibly masked) maniac that whittles them down to a survivor, who usually ends up being a plucky] woman. Any subversion to the formula is noteworthy, and they’re downright exciting when a filmmaker confronts that repetition and weaves it into something horrific in its own right. Brea Grant and Natasha Kermani have done just that with Lucky, a clever time loop riff that explores the daily anxieties of being a woman. To put it more bluntly, it’s about all of the absolute shit women endure on a daily basis: the anxiety, the gaslighting, the need to always be “on'' and put on a happy face even though your world is crumbling around you. Lucky reimagines womanhood as being the final girl of Groundhog Day, where the survivors endure an endless parade of macro and microaggressions perpetrated by men—then wake up the next day and do it all over again.
May (Grant) is a successful self-help author with a hit book and what seems to be a thriving marriage with her husband, Ted (Dhruv Uday Singh). She hosts frequent book signings, and her agent is already putting out feelers to publishers about a follow-up book. Everything seems fine. However, May can’t shake off the feeling that maybe that follow-up isn’t coming quickly enough, and there’s an unspoken tension between her and Ted. When she finds a broken plate in her kitchen and a stray shard of glass in the living room, she brushes it off; for the audience, it’s the first clue that something is askew here. Confirmation comes at night, when a noise startles May from her sleep. Convinced that she hears an intruder, she rustles Ted awake, only for him to greet her with a bemused reaction: the same man who has broken into their house every single night is back again, and Ted recites the familiar motions of grabbing a blunt object to fend off the masked man.
May has no idea what’s going on, and things just get weirder when the intruder inexplicably disappears and neither the police nor Ted can offer comfort or an explanation. She almost feels like the victim of some cruel prank—and then the intruder returns, over and over again, each and every day, trying to kill her. With it comes the same routine: the cops take her statement and pledge to catch the man, all while pandering to her concerns, practically condescending to her with their empty pledges and hollow reassurances. May can’t decide if she’s going crazy or if it’s everyone else who’s lost it.
The audience is similarly at a loss right alongside May. We don’t know why (or how) this menace returns each day, much less how he manages to literally vanish into thin air before May can capture him. Kermani inverts the typical impulse of the slasher here, reimagining the standard stalk-and-slash not to generate suspense but to instill frustration. The anonymous man is not so much a threat as he is a nuisance, and May keeps coming up with new ways to dispense with him. But the violence isn’t cathartic, much less triumphant: each time she clubs his head or breaks his neck, it brings her no closer to revealing the mystery that plagues her. Lucky is a Sisyphean slasher that aims to capture the utter frustration of being a woman: it’s not enough that May endures daily assaults, but she’s also dismissed by the various men in her life.
It soon becomes clear that this is the true, insidious horror of Lucky: the unrelenting condescension and haughtiness of the patriarchy, which works to swat May’s legitimate concerns by the wayside. The cops dutifully write down her testimony and insist they’re doing everything they can to help, yet there’s an utter disinterest (or distrust) in their voice. Her agent shows up with good news, oblivious to the hell she’s barely surviving everyday. Ted mysteriously vanishes, dredging up the awful memory of past trouble between the couple. And throughout all of this, people keep insisting she’s lucky, even though she feels anything but. Instead, the ordeal wears on her: a book signing goes awry when it’s clear her own best-selling mantra is currently doing no good. Answering questions about her future career moves feels like a farce because who could be expected to work under such conditions?
The obvious answer to that rhetorical question— and the one we’re meant to arrive at through Lucky’s increasingly obvious symbolism—is women. No matter how much shit they face, they’re expected to go on—and wouldn’t they look so much prettier if they smiled while doing it? Grant captures a woman navigating this daily paradox with a restrained performance. You could easily imagine this role calling for showy hysterics, but Grant remains cool because that’s the point, isn’t it? There’s a small beat when May is browsing a hardware store to repair the intruder’s latest damage and she allows a fleeting moment of annoyance and frustration before shaking it off and putting on her game face. The other moments where she breaks—like during an awkward Q&A session for her book—are notable because these are the few times the façade slips away, revealing the vulnerability she’s expected to hide. It’s no wonder she’s a self-help guru who insists on women taking things into her own hands because it’s not like the men in her own life even respect this pretense of resiliency. She survives because she’s lucky, not because she’s competent.
Her fellow women, including her sister-in-law and her personal assistant, can only offer empty platitudes because they’re also having to survive their own grind. The mystery haunting Lucky (put simply: just what in the hell is going on here?) spirals into an increasingly abstract, labyrinthine exploration of trauma where the allegorical subtext essentially becomes the text. When the climactic curtain lifts to reveal its secrets, it isn’t much of a revelation because the answer’s been obvious the entire time, and maybe it should be. Sadly, it probably isn’t to the audience that needs to actually see it, but I imagine Lucky still feels cathartic to the audience that routinely experiences its horrors. Beyond that, the film also serendipitously captures the drudgery of living in a pandemic, where the events of each day droned into a dull, repetitive blur—maybe someone should take that hook and run with it while they still can.
We’ve had plenty of horror movies in this vein lately, the ones that treat genre as a canvas for such socio-political anxieties, and this one does it with a cleverness and skill that’s noteworthy. Lucky is also further evidence that we’re living through a Brea Grant takeover: between this, After Midnight, 12-Hour Shift, and The Stylist, she’s firmly cemented her place among the genre’s most interesting artists, and we should consider ourselves...well, you know.
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