Is anybody else burnt out from obligatory Bad Ends in horror films? It feels like horror filmmakers have adopted this strange notion that ending happily somehow invalidates their work. Sometimes bad ends are appropriate. Robert Eggers’s The Witch (2015) needed a tragic ending or it would have felt like a thematic betrayal. But Michael Thelin’s Emelie (2015)? As much as I loved that film, its final shot of the titular killer alive and on the run felt added in post. Low-budget horror films are particularly vulnerable to this trope. Doron and Yoav Paz’s Jeruzalem (2015) and Jay Lender and Micah Wright’s They’re Watching (2015) are two such films I have reviewed for this site in recent months which featured aggressively pessimistic endings. And now they have a new bedfellow with Zack Ward’s Restoration, a mediocre film with a downer ending that doesn’t make sense within the logical confines of its own story.
The set-up feels familiar enough. Todd and Rebecca Jordan (Adrian Gaeta, Emily O’Brien) move into a new house and discover a teddy bear buried in one of the walls. Inside the teddy bear is a diary by a young girl named Katie Vanderhurst (Anna Harr), a chipper 11 year old with perfect handwriting and the grammar skills of a toddler (“I don’t want to get disappeared!”). Immediately afterwards the ghost of Katie begins to haunt them, culminating in her materializing and giving Todd second-degree burns on his arms. Here begins the best part of the film—Todd and Rebecca’s investigation into Katie’s disappearance and murder. While Restoration is an awful horror film, it’s a decent mystery thriller. When he isn’t setting the stage for one of the film’s woefully telegraphed jump scares, Ward proves himself a capable practitioner of mood and atmosphere. So the scenes of Todd and Rebecca visiting mental patients, exploring their neighborhood, and digging into their house’s past succeed.
[spoiler][Spoilers] Unsurprisingly, the next door neighbors, a bizarre couple with ties to a British colonial officer renowned for his brutal killings of India’s native population, are Satanic murderers. They capture them, murder them, and possess Rebecca’s unborn children. [End Spoilers][/spoiler] But this brings up all kinds of plot holes concerning the film’s lore. If Katie can appear at will and physically assault people to the point of hospitalization, why didn’t she help Todd and Rebecca in the last 15 minutes? Why didn’t Katie give them a clear warning about them in the first place? These questions compound the cheap ending, leaving the film feeling flat, uninspired, and unnecessarily nihilistic.