What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.
Following the death of his wife Sara (Tara Buck), Richard (John Mese) travels to a remote clinic with his non-verbal autistic ‘tween daughter Emmie (Faye Hostetter) to attempt an experimental treatment for her. Under stress taking time away from his legal work, Richard is frustrated with his inability to cope with Emmie but determined to honor his wife’s final wishes. Unable to see proof the treatments are working as the clinic claims, there are also Richard’s ongoing nightmares — exacerbated by prescribed anxiety meds and at-the-ready alcohol in their lavish Airbnb rental. A chance encounter with a local New Age shop owner (Tom Konkle) reveals their accommodations may have an unsavory history… and Richard’s broken family is in danger of becoming a part of it.
To address the elephant in the room, an autistic character is indeed presented herein as being “more” while perceived by others as “less” — often taken to ridiculous Hollywood lengths such as in the 2018 reboot The Predator — but the non-verbal condition in question here is actually a barrier to something else entirely and not merely a plot device. Building on this idea, director and co-writer Marcus McCollum sets about constructing a tale of being in the wrong place at the right time. While things keep getting worse as Richard’s world spins out of control, is there really an outside influence trying to make things difficult for its own sinister purpose, or is it all in his head?
Creepy real-or-not stories can be both paranoid and fun; Noise in the Middle honors its inspirations with wild abandon. A bit of The Shining, a dash of Paranormal Activity, and a captivating performance by Faye Hostetter in a gorgeous location contribute to a nail-biting thriller that maximizes their minimal efforts. With all the trappings of a great ghost story, it’s first and foremost about a father-daughter relationship but also being open to communication. The final scene does feel a bit abrupt, but everything needed to be said is there, followed by a clever montage denouement over the end credits.
Mese’s Richard is so unlikable at the beginning, viewers may actively hate him even after all the reasons for his behavior are presented, but once his turn begins, what the actor is capable of becomes apparent. Hostetter’s Emmie is highly believable for her age, playing a less-functional autistic than Hollywood typically demands. Konkle’s Albert is both harbinger and comic relief who hilariously never changes clothes as time progresses but also demonstrates the understanding Richard lacks. Because details are the bread and butter of these types of films, there are a few points that seem like continuity errors but may not be, such as a booze bottle that mysteriously gets recapped with no one to do it. Too much attention is called to the fact, and with revelations made afterward, it may be a hint for smart viewers who caught it and others without the characters ever noticing; if you guess why before the reveal, collect your no-name-non-bronze-no-prize here.
Many adults have a strong dislike for unruly children, especially those with a perceived discipline problem or a special-needs handicap; it’s an interesting choice to push that front and center here, championing a need for understanding those who don’t perceive the world in the same way as so-called regular folks. There’s also a subplot of “whatever happened to mom” that initially seems too mysterious for its own good, but it later explains how misconceptions (and a lack of paying close attention) can create problems all their own. It’s a credit to the screenplay that these elements are the focus… and all the rarer being more interesting than the potential ghost story threatening to interrupt it.
Noise in the Middle is unrated but contains violence & gore, alcohol & drugs, frightening & intense scenes, and a need to be silent and listen once in a while… or forever.
Four skull recommendation our of four