Two damaged siblings taking a road trip in an attempt to glue together a splintered bond is the foundation for directors Patrick Robert Young (who also wrote the film) and Powell Robinson’s slow-burn thriller Threshold. Even though their cross-country trek is in a clunker of a car, both brother and sister, Leo (Joey Millin) and Virginia (Madison West), have considerable mileage on them, with Virginia’s past drug use and Leo stoking embers of his dying marriage.
Virginia seems to exhibit the same mannerisms that she did during her darker, drug-induced days. Worried, Leo comes to her aid. But Virginia swears it is different. She claims to be possessed. Such assertations are common among those dealing with addictions and refusing to take responsibility, so obviously, Leo is skeptical but remains dedicated to getting Virginia back to safety.
As they drive, Virginia reveals more about her falling into a relationship with someone who had ties to a cult and is convinced her current behavior is a result of a connection with a stranger whose feelings and emotions are inextricably linked to hers, and that the only way this bond is severed is if one of them dies. Leo obviously finds this explanation as a rationalization and/or consequence of her habits but feels compelled to help his sister. His skepticism is occasionally tested by occurrences that align with her claims, such as the cloaked individual rushing out of her room when he first arrives.
“Two damaged siblings [take] a road trip in an attempt to glue together a splintered bond…”
Though it carries a relatively brief runtime of under 90 minutes, Threshold is marked by long stretches of exposition that might frighten off those looking for a fear factory filled with cheap jump scares around each corner. Instead, the filmmakers use this time to fully flesh out the leads and their bond despite divergent life paths. Shot using two iPhones and a crew of three, the film contains scenes that appear completely superfluous but are rich with detail. For example, the siblings decide to pick up pumpkins at one of their overnight stops and metaphorically spill their guts to one another as they carve into the gourds’ innards.
Despite a largely improvised script, West and Millin display a rapport that feels like an authentic family bond, capable of swinging from compassion to contempt in a heartbeat. Meanwhile, Robinson and Young create atmosphere by way of the locales Leo and Virginia drive through. The two make stops at some seedy places, as Leo’s salary as a teacher cannot afford more luxurious accommodations. It adds the right amount of grime to the narrative. And composer Nick Chuba crafts a darkly atmospheric, 1980s-synth-inspired soundtrack coating the proceedings in an additional layer of dread.
The screenplay maintains a sense of ambiguity throughout, leaving its audience as cautiously dubious to its conclusion as Leo is to his sister’s stories. But the more we spend time with the siblings, the more we root for a positive outcome, as their dialogue demonstrates both their desperation to put an end to all of this and move forward with their lives.
Like all memorable road trips, Threshold understands that the joys are found in the journey as much as the destination.