Directed by Marcel Sarmiento
Written by Evan Dickson & Marcel Sarmiento
Starring Kerris Dorsey, Ahna O’Reilly, James Tupper, Lia McHugh, Braeden Lemasters, Lawrence Pressman, Jocelyn Ayanna, Allison Caetano, & Taj the Cat!
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Though it takes a while to get rolling, TOTEM is a surprisingly effective domestic horror story steeped in twisted psychology and a pinch of the paranormal.
After her mother died, Kellie (Kerris Dorsey) happily slipped into the role of most responsible in her family, taking care of both her father James (James Tupper) and little sister Abby (Lia McHugh). While James is appreciative of his daughter going above and beyond the call of duty, he sees the toll it is taking on his over-achiever daughter and also begins to start looking for a companion of his own now that his daughters are growing up and Kellie looks to have a promising future in school and on the track team. Enter Robin (Ahna O’Reilly), a former friend of the family and now love interest for James. But as soon as Robin moves in, strange things begin to occur. Abby starts talking with imaginary friends. Things start moving and creaking around the house. And everyone begins seeing shadows move and feeling a dark presence in the house. It seems Kellie’s mother doesn’t approve of Robin and is willing to murder to get her point across. At least, that’s what it seems.
There’s a lot of wholesome getting to know you time that goes on with the first half of TOTEM. Sure there are a couple of bad dreams and some creaks and bumps in the night, but it all feels kind of safe and PG in the first forty-five minutes and that might put off a lot of people who are looking for hardcore horror. But while TOTEM never really gets incredibly gory (though it does have a few snippets of some ghastly acts of violence), it does get increasingly dark as it reaches its climax. On top of the paranormal aspects at play, there is some deep seeded psychosis dissected in this film. I was pretty shocked at how dark this film goes by the end. I was especially impressed with the lead, Kerris Dorsey, who has to juggle a lot of emotional weight for the entire film. There’s a lot of twisted secrets that come to light by the final reel and I feel this film did a fantastic job of patiently descending into the darkness.
So give TOTEM a chance. I think those who stick through with it until the end are going to be pleasantly surprised. Sure some of the haunted house happenings are kind of cliched at times and there seems to be a lot of carnage going on in a small house that isn’t noticed by others just a room away, but the unique and demented way TOTEM ends up makes up for all of that.