TERROR IN THE FAMILY
There’s usually a few skeletons in every actor’s closet. For Hilary Swank, it’s “Terror in the Family”.
It’s nothing to be ashamed about. Even Chuck Norris has a skeleton in his:
Putting “terror” into the title suggests you will have a thriller on your hands. There’s some heroics in the Norris vehicle, and there’s some terror, too. It’s accurate.
“Terror in the Family” combines “terror” with “in the family”. What you get is a family film, like the ones that often play on ABC Family, as well as family sitcoms, with the “terror” that occasionally creeps into Chuck Norris movies.
The important rule about terror is that it comes to you when you least expect it. It also takes various forms, so it can hide in people’s bodies like a chameleon. But the thing about terror is, it will not hide forever. Especially in a movie that’s only 2 hours long. You better believe the terror will eventually show itself because that’s just what the terror does.
It takes the form of Hilary Swank in this film, who is listed on IMDB not as Terror but Deena Martin. She’s your average 15 year old American teenage girl that lives in a middle class family with parents who are a little too preoccupied with their own problems to recognize when their daughter’s having one.
It’s a typical story, and you hear it all the time. Especially when parents get divorced, and then all hell breaks loose. But in this version of events, the family is a cohesive unit. Deena also has a younger brother who is about 10, 11 years old. He usually sits in his room and plays video games on his computer. Again – typical family right?
At some point during the movie you see the terror come into Deena’s bedroom window. It’s not visualized as a black goo that enters her mouth when she’s asleep, or a vampire with gelled hair that’s invited in. It takes the form of a 17 year old boy named Garrett (Andrew Kavovit, “Touched by an Angel”) who has dark features, likes to wear a dark leather jacket (or imitation leather most likely) and has a brooding quality about him we can’t put our finger on. But Deena likes him – a lot.
Not so outrageous of a premise, when you think about it. Teenage girls don’t know how to separate the good boys from the bad boys. In fact some never learn. But that’s why parents are important. They provide the wisdom and the knowledge for their kids to use so they don’t go repeating the same mistakes that they did. But Deena doesn’t listen. At some point during her coitus with Garrett, the terror enters Deena too. Now she’s got it.
She does all kinds of crazy things to her family and begins unraveling the fabric that once made them a cohesive unit. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. To make matters worse, there aren’t a lot of answers to explain Deena’s behavior.
Is it bipolar disorder? Teenage hormones? Drugs?
Screenwriter Gregory Gooddell (“View of Terror”) has no easy answers. He could have taken the easy way out and given us any of these three very provocative reasons but he knew deep down while he was writing it that it would be cheating. Sometimes, we don’t have all the answers. That’s why it’s called the terror – it acts by its own volition, and has ever since the early days of man. If we knew how to stop it, it would have been stopped by now.
Some of the blame lies with her parents. Her mom (played by the mom from “Growing Pains”) is an alcoholic. At one very embarrassing moment for her, she makes a pizza in the kitchen stoners would go crazy for. Her own problems mask her vision and she ends up making epic pies.
And she also ends up getting smacked around a lot.
First by Deena, then by her own mom. Actually her mom punches her. And she comes up with wild excuses, blaming herself for her daughter’s behavior. She thinks if she never grabbed Deena, she wouldn’t have gotten her lip busted open in the first place. But that’s not really the logic of a normal thinking person. It’s the logic of a drunk who is in denial that the “terror” has overcome her precious daughter.
Deena’s father has more sense to him (played by the dad from “The Wonder Years”). At least I thought so, until discovering the hobby that’s driven his wife away from him and added distance between his children is a weird cottage industry he’s set up in the basement making wooden bowls.
Suddenly things don’t look so clear anymore. It looks like her parents both have issues that need to get figured out, and fast. They drop the ball hard on raising their kids, but they still care about them. Everything becomes interwoven in a complicated fabric. The only reason mom started drinking was because dad kept making those damn wooden bowls. But the only reason he kept going down to make the bowls was because his wife was giving their kids too much attention. And when the kids get spoiled with attention they end up owning their parents, and that’s why Deena can get away with slapping her mom without facing the music.
The only person who owns Deena and can make her do anything is Garrett. He has his own domestic problems, ones that we are told share similarities to hers, and this could be one of the reasons why she sticks it out with him even though this guy is a complete mental train wreck. To offer just one example, his idea of a fun date with a girl is to climb the scaffolding of a roller coaster at a local theme park. They get to the top, she’s of course freaked the hell out, and then he lays it on her: this is where he comes when he thinks about killing himself.
Instead of going back home at the time she’s supposed to, Deena hangs out with Garrett. She joins his rock band, but since she doesn’t know how to play an instrument they give her a tambourine and she shares the mic with Garrett. When we see Deena on stage with him, this is the bottom of the abyss. We don’t see her strung out on drugs in some dingy apartment; she isn’t begging for money on the streets; she’s playing the tambourine in a horrible rock band.
When I say this is a skeleton in Hilary Swank’s closet, I don’t mean she’s a bad actress. I mean that she plays the tambourine with a rock band. No actor can look back on their career and see this as a strong moment. We must give Swank credit for her courage in taking on this role. There is a lot of genuine depth to her performance, and that goes for the actors who play her mom and dad too.
At the end of the film, I felt like I’d really gone through a journey with this family. To borrow the roller coaster imagery from the movie, it felt like a “terror ride”.
And I’d pay to get on it again.