Demon in a Bottle: Bright Hill Road (2021)-Reviewed


Addiction is often a never ending cycle, one some people find themselves trapped repeating their entire lives. Such a cycle is one Marcy (Siobhan Williams) finds herself in, in Robert Cuffley’s Bright Hill Road. 

Marcy, an HR manager at her company, suffers from severe alcoholism. Her life is consumed by her addiction and it leaves very little room for her to do her job well. The consequences of brushing off her responsibilities come crashing down one day when a man she recently fired makes good on his threats and shows up with a gun. While Marcy hides in a bathroom, the man mows down her coworkers and when the carnage ends, she’s placed on leave to deal with her trauma. 

Wracked with guilt, Marcy heads west to visit her sister in California. Stopping to rest, she comes upon Bright Hill Road Boarding House. Looking to kick back for a few days and process her grief, her reprieve becomes an endless nightmare. What appeared to be a refuge run by a kindly Ms. Inman (Agam Darshi) turns into a claustrophobic house of horrors where Marcy will have to confront more than her inner demons. 

 If you couldn’t tell, Bright Hill Road is a lot. It throws you right into the fire, barely letting you get to know Marcy before the tragedies start. This is by design as you’re meant to uncover the many mysteries about her and her addiction as she comes face to face with them inside the house. The demonic voice of her alcoholic and abusive father taunts her at every turn. A mysterious bottle of wine keeps reappearing despite her either drinking it down or dumping it in the sink. Her efforts to get a hold of her sister become increasingly difficult. A mysterious man shows up hiding his own dark secrets. And every time she tries to leave, Marcy finds herself right back inside, too disoriented to understand why or how. 

The best haunted house stories are the ones that force the haunted to confront some sort of real life trauma by way of the supernatural. The Shining tackles addiction and abuse. Relic transposes a mind shattered by dementia onto the maze-like hallways of the victim’s house. Here, it’s no different, Marcy struggling with addiction and the memory loss that comes with it, frantically running in circles trying piece the fragments of her mind back together. The claustrophobic camerawork is excellent at slowly boxing you and Marcy in. The walls close in and the boarding house becomes a purgatory of sorts, a cyclical nightmare one can only escape after a profound truth is finally understood. 

The problem that Bright Hill Road frequently runs into is that despite some eerily evocative filmmaking, it just doesn’t say anything effectively. Unlike the other, better haunted house films mentioned, the execution is deeply muddled. Of course, addiction is debilitating. And? Of course traumatic events emotionally paralyze you. And? Marcy, and the viewer by proxy, are put through the wringer only to meet a payoff that feels both obvious and alarmingly misguided. The third act “twist” detailing what this place is and who Ms. Inman and the other guest are feel obvious from the jump. That’s not a major problem because the film is scary and thrilling enough to excuse that. What is inexcusable are the conclusions the film reaches.

There’s a bizarre demonization of addiction and of Marcy running through the film that never coalesces. It’s undeniable that people are responsible for their own actions even while under the influence but the point writer Susie Maloney seems to hitting at is that if you just say you’re sorry, it’ll all be better. Again, apologizing is a big step in recovery. You can’t excuse dangerous, negligent or reprehensible behavior because you were drunk. However, there’s no effort made to explore why Marcy turned to alcohol to cope. No effort to dig into how trauma begets trauma. We get surface level “father issue” stuff which is never fleshed out and at a certain point feels tacked on to make you feel sorry for her. The film almost goes out of its way to make Marcy the villain and it never really recovers. 

One could make the argument that that’s the point. That society treats addicts like villains and that through her terrible actions lies a human being that deserves empathy. That’s fair. There’s just no nuance here and any attempt to reckon with the many faces of addiction is often discarded for another jump scare.

 A film doesn’t need to make the “correct” point to valuable as art but Bright Hill Road is far too hollow and muddled to register beyond a good premise. It’s consistently kneecapped by tedious running in circles, hitting the same point over and over again before it reaches a conclusion seen from a mile away. This kind of subject matter deserves better than superficial platitudes and hokey frights disguised as a “challenging” psychological thriller. 

-Brandon Streussnig