There’s a particular type of horror movie experience that might be on its way to relic in our era of Netflix and other streaming services. We live in an age where video entertainment is literally at our fingertips, and that means we view it in bubbles. Our reactions to what we see are entirely our own, influenced by what our personal experiences evoke in us when combined with what we see on the screen. Watching a suspenseful horror flick in a theater with an audience, on the other hand, enables you to react to what’s happening on the screen along with a group of other individuals. Hearing other members of an audience shout commands to a character on a screen heighten the tension, making stronger the sights and sounds you thought you might be too jaded and experienced to enjoy.
Naturally, this effect doesn’t work for every film. You’d probably feel irritated by someone shouting “get the hell out of there!” at Debra Winger in Terms of Endearment, for example, but be perfectly fine with individuals screaming the same command from the edge of their seats at Jamie Lee Curtis in John Carpenter’s Halloween. Then along comes a film like Radius (2017; EMA Films, Peripatetic Pictures, Title Media), which somehow manages to produce this effect no matter how you choose to watch it.
Radius stars Diego Klattenhoff (Pacific Rim, Mean Girls) as Liam and Charlotte Sullivan (Chicago Fire, Blue Bloods) as Jane. The story begins when Liam wakes up outside at night following a nasty car accident. He does not remember who he is or anything about the night before the crash. The only information Liam can immediately obtain is his name and address as it appears on the driver license in his wallet. As Liam starts to search for help and make his way home, strange things begin happening around him: people and animals drop to their deaths whenever he is near.
At first, Liam believes the air is contaminated with some virus. He begins taking precautions when he arrives home by sealing his doors and windows. Soon, however, he realizes that the contaminant is not in the air but him, because everything within a certain radius of Liam drops dead. That is, everyone except for Jane, who comes knocking on the door of his shed and reveals that she, too, was in the accident that robbed him of his memory. She is likewise unable to recall anything about the crash or her own life. As they begin trying to put the puzzle pieces together, Liam and Jane discover that the only way to prevent Liam’s contamination of other people is for him to remain close to her. As long as they stick within a certain distance of each other, people within Liam’s radius do not perish.
The best thing about Radius is the sympathy you feel for both Liam and Jane while the story unfolds. You sympathize with Liam because he seems to genuinely feel sorry about the deaths linked to him through no apparent fault of his own. You feel bad for Jane because, although you come to find out that she has a life separate from Liam, she is now inextricably linked to him if she wants to prevent innocent people from dying. This connection between the characters, and thus with the audience, is preyed upon by the film’s plot when various circumstances inevitably separate the two at the worst possible times.
For example, there comes the point in the film when Jane reconnects with her husband, who knows that Liam is wanted in connection with the deaths and hopes to extricate Jane from her relationship with Liam by calling the police. Naturally, when the police arrive the first thing they do is attempt to separate the two, all while both Liam and Jane struggle to maintain their metaphysical connection to preserve the lives of the very people who are trying to separate them. The film plays on this aspect of the relationship between Liam and Jane several times, but never by simple repetition of events that have already occurred. Each struggle is uniquely tense and terrifying.
Overall, Radius is a polished film with stunningly believable portrayals of both of the lead characters. There is, naturally, a twist to the story near the end. However, it is not one that disappoints, nor does it feel like a cop-out. Radius is available for rent or purchase on streaming services but, frankly, it deserves a theatrical release. Radius is a movie that is entertaining when viewed alone but could be much more so if seen with an audience. If you stream Radius, stream it with some friends or family. Make sure that the first you watch it, you are watching it with others who have not seen it before. I do believe the film will stand up to repeated viewings, but–like anything that’s closed with a twist–it’s best when it’s fresh.