Budget in no way denotes quality. As studios put hundreds of millions into forgettable and awful tentpole films, there is no correlation between the amount of money spent on a movie and how good that project will be. And the inverse is true, with many independent films (like SLACKER, CLERKS, or the Mumblecore movement) finding critical and commercial success while operating under very low costs. Horror is a genre that has repeatedly proven this since the beginning. LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, THE EVIL DEAD, THE DEADLY SPAWN, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY amongst many, many others all received varying degrees of box office success and praise from critics while having the budgets reserved for one day’s craft service for most major studio films. With the VHS boom of the ’80s and now the VOD/Streaming boom currently happening, coupled with the ease of getting professional grade equipment at low costs, there have been tons of titles that are easily churned out. But the low budget successes in horror usually come with a singular vision—a unique approach to a new story or idea that depends on mood or allocates all of their funding for one specific element (like the monster in DEADLY SPAWN or the set design in TEXAS CHAIN SAW). The problem is that if a film is already not very good, a mish-mash of references to better films, and is hobbled by poor writing and weak acting, the budgetary constraints become that much more pronounced. It’s not that THE TERRIBLE TWO is bad because it is very low budget; it’s a bad film that happens to have a very low budget.
The film concerns the death/disappearance of a family in a house. After expectant parents Albert and Rose Poe move into a new house that seems perfect for them to raise their family, tragedy befalls them six years later when their daughters die in a tragic accident. Now, a year after their death, the couple is visited by ghastly intrusions into their lives that suggest the girls’ spirits aren’t quite done with them. Added into this is a cryptic manuscript written by a possessed man that used to live in the house who looks to quell his demons by killing other people. The Poes’ sense of reality begins to slip as the ghosts of the slain girls become more active and more malevolent.
Writer/director Billy Lewis has some actually interesting ideas in his otherwise threadbare script. Dealing with loss has always been a powerful factor in great horror films like THE CHANGELING, PET SEMATARY, and JACOB’S LADDER. It’s a source for real psychological exploration that brings with it all sorts of emotions like guilt, despair, anger, resentment, and a host of other issues when parents face their worst nightmare. So it’s a potent idea with lots of potential. And the performance by Donny Boaz as the too friendly realtor with something to hide is very strong and natural. And, even more impressive, the cinematography is very good and there are even a few clever shots in the film that appropriates elements usually used in house invasion films to make the presence of the ghosts very sinister.
Unfortunately, those few notes are about all the positive aspects for THE TERRIBLE TWO. The film opens with a clear TEXAS CHAIN SAW “homage” (complete with flashbulb noise), spends most of the film referencing/cribbing from superior works like SINISTER and THE STRANGERS with a dash of ROSEMARY’S BABY, and then becomes utterly convoluted with a meandering plot about possession and demons and none of it really adds up to anything. The script is incredibly weak, completely undermining its strong central premise of loss, with scenes that go nowhere and awful dialogue. If you drink every time the characters use each other’s names in dialogue, you would be on dialysis before the halfway mark. And there are such gems as “I just found a death threat note in my sock drawer from the girls!” peppered throughout that are awkward and bizarre.
What makes the writing in THE TERRIBLE TWO especially painful is that the two leads playing the Poes are incredibly bad. They have flat delivery, no sense of connection or chemistry — which doesn’t play as a strained relationship but just two strangers in a house putting on a play. Rose is the more tormented of the two, and lapses into psychotic reverie while preparing cakes for her ghost daughters or brushing the hair of their dolls. But it all feels very forced and utterly inauthentic, so there’s nothing to properly engage the audience. It’s a painful thud of exposition and dialogue that is unnatural and stilted and completely ruins any chance for the flimsy script to connect with viewers.
And the plot is insane, but not in a fun “what’s going to happen next?” way. Instead it’s insane like someone took scissors to better films and used the Burroughs Cut-Up Method to create a narrative for a movie. The story is all over the place with ghosts, and then maybe it’s veering into a Christian movie, before suddenly having a bad CGI shadow demon controlling people, all through the machinations of a broad conspiracy that involves a shady realtor and some random lady named Nebula that menaces the Poes for one scene, gets accosted by the evil realtor the next, and then is not a factor in any other way.
It never feels good to dislike a movie, and it feels worse to have to negatively critique it. People work hard and no matter how bad something is, it’s probable that many involved are proud of what was accomplished with the resources available. There’s actually a good idea and good cinematography buried underneath an otherwise leaden script and terrible performances. THE TERRIBLE TWO cribs too much from better movies and never has a singular voice of its own that is in any way unique or fun or scary or anything establishing a mood of its own. No amount of money could be thrown at this to improve it, as it’s not a matter of F/X or locations letting down the production, but instead just a complete vacuum of talent that should be avoided at all costs.