The most effective horror movies make audiences uncomfortable; and while there’s a lot about the psychological thriller “Look Away” that doesn’t work, writer-director Assaf Bernstein has the discomfort part down. If nothing else, the picture boasts at least a half-dozen scenes that are cringe-worthy, in a good way.
India Eisley stars as Maria, a mousy high school senior, bullied by her classmates and belittled by her dad (Jason Isaacs), a plastic surgeon who nitpicks her looks and habits. Depressed, she spends a lot of time talking to herself in the mirror — until one day the reflection talks back, saying all the cool, cutting things Maria longs to.
Eventually, the mirror-Maria replaces the real one, either via mystical mojo or a psychotic break. Soon, she’s exacting revenge against the meanies.
Bernstein stages a few good, tense moments in the film’s second half — in particular a skate-chase scene on an iced-over stream — but “Look Away” mostly fails as a “killer teen” movie. The pace is too slow, and the mood too somber.
There’s some spark though in the film’s first half, when Bernstein unflinchingly depicts Maria’s secret sexual desires, and defines her daily life as a series of awkward experiences: being clumsy at school, seeing a movie with her father that suddenly turns raunchy, and so on.
“Look Away” is at its scariest not when Maria’s trying to murder people, but when she’s quietly enduring adolescence … and all its terrors.
Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes.
Playing: Starts Friday, Vintage Los Feliz 3; Galaxy Mission Grove, Riverside; also on VOD