In the new movie Costs (Hulu, March 4) we watch a woman get thrown into hell and then try to get out of it. We’ve seen such tales countless times before in horror, but recently the latent subtext has become overt text. Sociopolitical commentary is the main thrust of so many contemporary horrors, to often valuable but sometimes irritating effect.
Costsrealized by Mimi’s Cave and written by Lauryn Kahn, tries to strike a balance between urgent messages and pure depravity. It suggests, in a few tense moments, that the film may be a treatise on the perils of modern dating, particularly those experienced by heterosexual and bisexual women who suffer a constant onslaught from mean men – conceited assholes, misogynists not so subtle, and sometimes much, much worse.
Which is more than movie-worthy subject matter – indeed, it’s been the subject of several lately, including last year’s Oscar winner Promising young woman. But Costs pushes his argument a bit too bluntly. Its declarative moments feel attached, out of necessity, to what is otherwise a streamlined and thrilling feature that scores plenty of points without the sweeping gestures.
Cave and Kahn stage the film with appalling stature. We meet Noa (normal peopleit is Daisy EdgarJones) as she goes on a bad date, laments how hard it is in the singles scene with her best friend Mollie (Jojo T. Gibbs), and then, wouldn’t you know, has an unexpected encounter with a handsome doctor, Steve (Sebastian Stan), in a supermarket. They flirt, exchange numbers. He miraculously makes contact – not so soon that he seems too impatient and desperate, but not so late that Noa craves a second thought. They go to bed together and plan a sexy – or maybe really romantic – weekend together.
We in the audience know something is going to go wrong. Cave gently plucks a string of tension and lets it vibrate in the background, his film’s dark, brooding color palette hinting at a hidden threat. The trick of the movie is that we really have no idea how serious the situation is until, well, we find out in a mercilessly dark scene. Steve has a particular taste, it turns out that an horror of all horrors.
Costs has biting fun with the horror of its premise. Cave turns once-everyday activities into garish nightmares, an 80s rock-pop soundtrack blaring as Noa, torn but not defeated, tries to find a way out. The cinema here is sleek and assured, boding good things for first director Cave. Costs premiered at Sundance – where sometimes a little polish is a nice diversion from all the mannered grit – but would probably have burst bigger at the upcoming South by Southwest film festival, where that kind of gory and slick tends to go well to play.
This isn’t an art horror movie in the vein of the recent Sundance premiere Master (also released this month), or past Sundances Hereditary and The witch. Costs is more of a dark slice of visceral entertainment, sometimes disguised as something heavier. When the script indicates its intent – particularly in the final climax, when a few awkward, thematic lines threaten to derail the whole thing – the fresh flint of what precedes loses some of its edge.
That said, there’s undoubtedly significant catharsis in watching Noa’s escape from the worst man in the Pacific Northwest (and probably many other places). Cave knows how nice it can be to see a terrible system violently overthrown. And Stan makes for a perfectly despicable villain, fully deserving of what’s happening to him: he smarmily feigns sensitivity and deep thinking, posing as a sophisticated good guy to briefly disguise his utter hatred of women. Costs certainly has a virtue. I just wish the movie didn’t feel the need to telegraph that righteousness so explicitly.
Throughout, Edgar-Jones is a gripping track, at times evoking Anne Hathaway Where dakota johnson at their liveliest, but with a courage all its own. Gibbs, as the concerned best friend, has more to do than that role is usually granted, an opportunity she seizes with panache. Costs is brilliantly acted and, for all the monstrosity in it, oddly inviting because of it.