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CUCKOO [Chicago Critics Festival 2024]

Written By:

Martin Unsworth

Strange in the most terrifying ways, Cuckoo lives up to its title with a bonkers concept. Gretchen, a teenage daughter played by Hunter Schafer, discovers that living at a resort with her dad’s new family has a few odd quirks to it. As she unravels high-concept horrors, Gretchen discovers the truth about her new step-family. To say any more of the plot would be to spoil its treasures.

The cast’s off-the-wall performances make this into a whacked-out oddity. Even the charming Hunter Schafer, a mostly grounding element, contains elements of genre trope self-awareness. Her reactions pull audiences along through imaginative horrific delights that feel so fresh you can smell them. Cuckoo is a strong candidate if you’re looking for a horror movie that you need help getting a grip on. The rabbit-hole approach can drag on, but it’s worth it for the film’s queasy reveals. By its end, when every element is in place, you feel you’ve been on a nonstop rollercoaster, even when the slow and dull build to understanding that’s taken place was actually pretty cookie-cutter.

Gretchen’s story feels like another self-validating one. Many who grew up in splintered families might characterise new blood as invasive to the status quo. Here, that fear is literalised in an almost childish way. Like a fairy tale that’s a metaphor for not being afraid of the dark, Cuckoo delivers a simple allegory for adults to deal with a juvenile issue. Cinema like this has found a welcome place among a generation that feels like kids in adult drag. Although Cuckoo is a fine picture, it’s a shame that the talents behind it couldn’t create a more culturally productive work.


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