Film Review: The Man in the White Van
The Man in the White Van
Director: Warren Skeels
Legion M, XYZ Films, Garrison Film Productions
World Premiere: 10.14
In the wake of modern cinema, the “true crime” subgenre of thrillers has flourished. Made mainstream by directors such as David Fincher, this trend has oversaturated the market. True-crime movies are released every year, many of these movies feel the same, often being predictable and structurally dull. The killer kills, and the protagonist lives in fear on the sidelines, only to be the next victim. Will they escape? (The answer is almost always “yes.”). And while Warren Skeel’s directorial debut, The Man in the White Van, indeed suffers from these tropes, it happens to also offer some moments of subversion that may prove to make for a worthwhile and tense ride for some viewers.
The Man in the White Van follows the horse-loving, angsty and confused teen Annie (Madison Wolfe, Malignant) trying to find her way through being 15. Amid a growing conflict with her parents and sister, who are played by Ali Larter (Final Destination), Sean Astin (Lord of the Rings) and Brec Bassinger, Annie struggles to be confident in her identity. On top of all that, she’s being stalked by a strange white van and its mysterious driver. Throughout the film, Annie attempts to communicate this eerie predicament to her parents, who, due to somewhat poor writing and characterization, are inclined to think their daughter is lying.
As a slow-burn, familial thriller, White Van attempts to increase the intensity by intercutting these scenes of melodrama with segments of the ominous man in the van murdering women in unrelated vignettes. In their low-budget and poorly coordinated horror elements, these moments drag the film on and give it a slug’s pace. The horror elements in general didn’t do much for me as a viewer. Instead, they more or less reaffirmed my frustrations with modern horror tropes, such as inserting a loud, orchestral screech alongside any possible jumpscare. In White Van these “jumpscares” were often monotonous; for example, a figure passes in front of the camera followed by an annoyingly jarring “EEEK” of violin strings.
That said, there are some special things about The Man in the White Van that deserve acknowledgment. While never particularly terrifying, the film did succeed in ramping up the final-act’s tension, due to some particularly excellent writing, which contextually subverted my expectations. Also, Wolfe’s performance was well done and lent the entire film a sense of believability. Her genuine reactions and emotion gave the film a heart that many other similar thrillers have lacked.
The Man in the White Van is not a masterpiece of thrilling tension by any means, and to many viewers, it may come off as a tedious, even sloppily constructed thriller. For those who are willing to accept some dull moments and lose themselves in the characters, they may ultimately find The Man in the White Van a rewarding and tense, 100-minute journey. I am curious to see the cast and crew of this film continue honing their skill, and I will gladly watch whatever they make next. –Keegan Hayes