My axe to grind with this movie is the size of a bus. It has a brilliant atmosphere, compelling mise-en-scène, tension you can cut with a knife, and a chilling premise. Unfortunately, they made the terrible choice of casting Jack Nicholson.
Look, the dude is one of the GOATs, but whose idea was it to cast him as a normal, work-a-day, super-mentally-stable everyman? The guy looks like he has a pile of personally strangled puppies under his bed. Jack Nicholson in his natural state has all the sanity of a recently laid off circus clown. No-one could ever buy that he slowly descended into madness because he was born there! He literally looked like he would have happily strangled both his wife and son on the drive THERE – where is the build-up, Mr Kubrick? It took your main character three weeks to want to dismember his whole family? Jesus, he really had that one swimming close to the surface.
Once we get into the actual oh-he’s-gone-full-Tom-Cruise-loopy scenes, the movie becomes a masterclass in tension. Imagine being stuck in the middle of nowhere with Jack Nicholson wielding an axe. He really is one of the best actors we’ll ever see, but he definitely has a niche, and the second half of this movie plays to it beautifully. I hope we’ve all learned our lesson, and will continue to only cast him as either an outright baby killer, or a cranky grandpa with lightly bubbling homicidal rage as subtext.
7/10: Natural Jack Nicholson is creepier than the hallway twins