Delirium (2018) Disappoints More Often Than it Haunts

Another week brings us another release from Blumhouse Productions or, more specifically, their micro-distribution brand, Blumhouse Tilt. This latest direct-to-streaming platforms release, Delirium, has some recognizable names attached to it. That 70’s Show alum Topher Grace stars and Dennis Iliadis, who helmed The Last House on the Left remake, directs. One of the film’s producers also happens to be Leonardo DiCaprio. Now available on Netflix, this ghostly film looks to offer fans a cross between The Woman in Black and …well, just about every other haunted house film you’ve probably seen.

Synopsis

Topher Grace plays Tom, a young man recently released from a forensic psychiatric facility for a crime committed in his teens. Under house arrest for the first 30 days of his release, Tom returns to the family mansion left to him by his recently deceased father. Alone and unable to leave the house, Tom begins hearing sounds and seeing horrific visions. He discovers secret passages in the walls. When visions of his imprisoned brother begins to appear, Tom must confront whether he is being haunted or succumbing to madness.

Competent, Completely Familiar Scares

Delirium is nothing if not a competently made thriller checking all the requisite boxes. Everything about the production quality is quite good from sound design to the camera work. Still everything about Delirium feels familiar, like a no-name brand copy of much better haunted house films.

Tom’s visions and the ‘bumps in the night’ begin almost immediately in the film. Shadowy figures creep up from behind and decaying images of the dead father pop up periodically. These scenes are filmed with a predictable but workmanlike quality. While a few jump scares work, most of the engineered thrills are predictable, accompanied by the standard loud sound. Much of Delirium will only serve to remind you of better films including, but not limited to Sinister and The Woman in Black. Not much in the way of atmosphere or tension is present. Delirium has an almost omnipresent music score that is so generic it was probably included with iMovie.

A Promising Story Let Down by Implausible Story Twists

Adam Alleca’s screenplay does the best it can with its familiar material. Delirium gives little information about Tom at the start of the film, wisely opting to drop clues as the story unfolds. Tom’s psychotic breaks raise doubts about what you see and are told, leaving the audience questioning what is real and what is imaginary. Experienced horror fans will be able to piece things together pretty quickly. As hard as the screenplay tries, Delirium doesn’t offer much in the way of innovation or fresh ideas, and when it does, it doesn’t feel right.

Adam Alleca’s screenplay does the best it can with its familiar material.

Any potential Delirium has to rise above its mediocre trappings is completely undone by its third act. Predictable isn’t always bad if the expected plot points are well executed. But Alleca opts to go left instead of right with the story. While you can appreciate the ambition of trying to throw viewers a curveball, it doesn’t work in this case. All of the ‘haunting’ elements and ambiguity emerging from Tom’s mental illness are abandoned for increasingly implausible, if not outright ridiculous, developments. Everything about the film’s conclusion feels unsatisfying.

Topher Grace Could Build a Career as the Next Anthony Perkins

At one point Topher Grace appeared to be destined for great things. Then Spider-Man 3 happened. To be fair, Topher was hardly to blame for that sequel’s failure. He was miscast in a role shoehorned into a busy film. In Delirium Grace acquits himself quite well, and is arguably the best part of the movie. In fact, Topher Grace may be able to carve out a niche for himself in the horror genre. He brings a nervous energy to his characterization of Tom that may remind some viewers of Anthony Perkins.

…Grace acquits himself quite well, and is arguably the best part of the movie.

The rest of the small cast is fine, if not forgettable, with what they have to work. As Tom’s parole officer, Patricia Clarkson is largely wasted in an oddly written role. Her character seems all over the place and, with no character arc, it’s hard to reconcile her behaviours. This turns out to be a problem for the film’s other two characters – Lynn (Genesis Rodriguez) and Alex (Callan Mulvey). It’s not the performances that are problematic; the characters are poorly written, behaving in ways designed to advance the story and its twists rather than reflect natural character motives.

A Perfectly Fine, Generic Time-Waster

Delirium is far from being a bad movie. It’s first half is largely just guilty of being utterly familiar and generic. That’s not to say it does not have its moments. As the film progresses, it twists and goes in a direction that may not be entirely surprising for many viewers and is certainly unlikely to emotionally satisfy. Yet for people looking to pass some time on a rainy afternoon who have seen the better horror options on Netflix, Delirium is a perfectly fine time-waster. If there is a big takeaway from Delirium, it’s Topher Grace and his performance. There is a total Anthony Perkins-vibe coming from him that could work so well in future horror roles.

THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: C+

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Author: Andrew Welsh

I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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