The thing which waits under your bed, hides in the closet, stalks your dreams – is waiting for you. At least Emma Wright knew. When she was 10, she was accused of killing her sister, but Emma knew it was the Stickman. After years spent locked up in a sanitarium, she finally has her demons control and is released. But even though Emma’s put hertraumatic childhood behind, the Stickma’s got other plans for her.
Some movies do themselves a disservice right out of the gate by using a premise that other movies have done before – and FAR better. And if your movie’s big bad is prone to leaving the world of nightmares to stalk its prey in the waking world, then there’s a certain chap with a red-and-green striped sweater and a razor-tipped glove that might want to have a word in your ear. To quote The Wire’s Omar Little; “you come at the King, you best not miss”.
Which leads us to Stickman. This 2017 movie, written and directed by Sheldon Wilson, is actually a Sy Fy original. Now this, combined with the fact it was filmed in Canada (don’t get me wrong, I love Canada and Canadians – but it’s hard to argue that movies filmed there tend to be a little – shall we say – low rent) might lead you to lower your expectations for the end result. Things start out pretty promisingly; we meet teen student Emma (Hayley Law), in a rather effective and bloody little opening sequence involving a creepy bus driver and a barely-glimpsed black-clawed creature rampaging through the morning school bus.
Turns out this is the old bait-and-switch though, as we’re actually sharing Emma’s nightmare; in reality she’s trapped within the gloomy walls of Homewood Hall, a mental institution presided over by Doctor Patrick Fenton. We learn that Emma’s been under lock and key ever since her mother and sister were brutally murdered – for which she shouldered the blame. She quickly found herself classified as insane, thanks to her lurid tales of the Stickman; a sinister creature that appeared in order to wreak havoc when she recited a poem which refers to him by name (borrowing from another of the big boys, Candyman, by any chance?). We also meet Jeremy, a fellow inmate obsessed with drawing sinister stick figures; he hasn’t spoken a word in the six years since he too apparently butchered his parents.
A quick jump forwards to a year later, and Emma has made such significant progress in facing her demons that she’s eligible for release into a foster home; poor silent Jeremy though isn’t so lucky, and is condemned to stay. Emma’s new (all female) house mates quickly prove themselves to be a mixed bunch – the most unfriendly being Liv (Zoé De Grand Maison of Orphan Black) who doesn’t take kindly to having a potential murderer sleeping under the same roof. But of course it isn’t long before the Stickman comes calling, and they all find themselves banding together in a fight for their very lives.
For around the first half of its eighty-five minute runtime Stickman is pretty entertaining; it’s very nicely shot, making heavy use of a chilly blue colour palette, with some effective tracking shots down the long, Stygian corridors of the institution. Unfortunately it suffers from the same fate of many a low-budget horror, in that it lacks the confidence to keep its monster lurking in the shadows. The movie does a decent job of building some initial dread and suspense – but once we get a full-on glimpse of the rather lame CGI creation that the Stickman actually is that tension pretty much evaporates. Instead of taking a leaf out of Spielberg’s Jaws play book and keeping your (slightly ropey-looking) creature hidden, the director slaps Stickman in every other scene from the midway point.
There’s some reasonable gore thrown in every now and then, and for the most part the actors make the most of the (admittedly light and formulaic) script and try their best to bring their characters off the page. That script also seems to make the rules governing Stickman’s actions somewhat arbitrary; in one instance he can only appear following a strict reading of his titular poem, the next he can leap out of the shadows at will like a cut-price Jason Voorhees. There are some scenes that are legitimately creepy, including the opening and many set in the hospital, as well as any time the Stickman’s elongated claws slowly pierce their towards the screen; but ultimately Stickman is just too predictable and light on scares to be very satisfying. It’s not without merit, just don’t expect too much and you might well find yourself caught up in its charm.