If there’s any niche of the film industry that rising filmmakers commonly break into, it’s the horror genre, and Iranian-American director Natasha Kermani should do just that in her second feature film, Lucky. Together, she and writer-lead actress Brea Grant have crafted a darkly funny but terrifying truthful film about the horrors women face on a daily basis, and the film presents these truths in captivating fashion through a surreal tone, a creative script, incredible visuals and Grant’s standout lead performance.
A successful self-help author has to go it alone when her home is invaded nightly in the latest Shudder original.
In the ongoing streaming wars pitting content providers against each other, one service that’s making waves by doing its own thing is Shudder, the streamer that prides itself on its focus within the niche of horror filmmaking. The AMC Networks-owned platform provides a library full of horror films that tell stories from every continent and filmmaking era, from the Italian giallo genre and classics from the silent era to contemporary arthouse whatzits like Kuso and indigenous horror such as their original series The Dead Lands and the TIFF hit Blood Quantum. Shudder is finding recent success on the awards circuit as well, with the Guatemalan supernatural horror film La Llorona getting nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Golden Globes.
Shudder is also looking to elevate female-driven films and with them, the female directors that crafted them, with one upcoming example being Elza Kephart’s Slaxx from the Fantasia Film Festival. Their latest release, Lucky, is another acquisition from that festival, and is set to be a surefire standout in Shudder’s growing catalog of original films thanks to its creative premise, thoughtful direction from Natasha Kermani that grounds its story in reality with a surreal tone, and what should be a breakthrough performance by its writer and lead actress, Brea Grant.
Lucky follows May Ryer (Grant), a successful self-help novelist living a peaceful life with her husband Ted (Dhruv Uday Singh) until one night, their home is invaded by a masked man (Hunter C. Smith). Ted easily disposes of the slasher before he can kill May, and strangely shrugs off the incident by saying that he breaks into their house every night. This revelation confuses May to the point where she is worried the perpetrator could return for her, but Ted tries to dismiss the notion she’s in danger, much to the justified anger of his wife.
Ted is quick to make the conversation about himself, accusing May of blaming him for the incident, and deciding to leave her alone until she’s “calmed down” in his eyes, only to seemingly disappear. Meanwhile, May’s stalker returns to attack her again on the next night, but May upends him on her own, just missing the opportunity to unmask him because he weirdly disappears when she has her back turned. Fed up with her torment being disregarded with her attacker still at large and her husband nowhere in sight, May takes matters into her own hands to discover his identity and prove to everyone in her circle once and for all that she has worth and is telling the truth.
The best elements of Lucky come in the form of Kermani’s direction, and Grant’s talents as a writing and acting double threat. Grant’s third feature-length screenplay sets May in a horror film where scenes talking to friends are as terrifying as the home invasion scenes, whether they’re in broad daylight or the dead of night. Women face a lot of adversity in today’s society whether it’s in the workplace, behind closed doors, or on the nightly walk to their car, and the horrifying truths about that strike a chord through every interaction May has, whether it’s with her sister-in-law Sarah (Kausar Mohammed) who flatly praises her bravery with platitudes only to recoil in disgust when May details her graphic encounters with her burglar, or when she’s asked irrelevant questions about what she was doing the day of an attack by unhelpful law enforcement officials.
May’s journey for answers is made more compelling thanks to Grant’s phenomenal lead performance; she commands for her hard work as a writer to be recognized with boundless determination, such as her reaction after her publicist tells her how she should feel about her success, as well as a desire to keep her sanity in the face of doubt during silent scenes of contemplation. Meanwhile, Kermani’s direction amplifies May’s terror by saving the traditional stylized visuals of most genre cinema for the most surreal of sequences, like when she helps a friend escape from a parking garage drenched in red lighting, or when May is forced to answer questions from a social worker, a police officer, and a detective while an EMT checks her vitals at the same time.
If there are any qualms to be found in Lucky, it’s that the film does such a strong job making its points through its surrealistic elements, that it’s deflating when the film gets a little on-the-nose with its ideas through a couple exchanges of dialogue in pivotal scenes toward the end. It’s also worth noting that while the film doesn’t wear out its welcome at its 80 minute runtime, it does end on a note that offers an interesting visual, but asks a new question without providing much of a resolution.
But while a movie with a script this sharp and original does leave audiences wanting more when the credits roll, the question left unanswered isn’t necessarily important at the end of the film. What is important are the truths at the film’s core, and the truth is monsters like the man attacking May have many faces to so many people, and what feels like a dream to the spectators of Lucky is a living nightmare to women across the world.
Audiences will want to see May persevere through the nightmarish gaslighting and violent terror to which she’s subjected, and have their eyes opened to the ambitious frankness Kermani and Grant have in telling a story that’s equal parts darkly funny, and thought-provokingly terrifying. It’s brutally honest about what it feels like for a woman to live in today’s society, and that’s why anyone would be lucky to stumble onto Lucky when they’re looking for something to stream this weekend.