For a majority of Taneli Mustonen’s The Twin, folklore darkly colors jolt-inspiring maternal horrors from moonlit shadows. Fans of Jaume Collet-Serra’s Orphan or Nicholas McCarthy’s The Prodigy will feel at home when The Twin’s adoring parents notice obscure traits displayed by their otherwise angelic children. Mustonen and co-writer Aleksi Hyvärinen explore the depths of grief through Finnish haunted house means—a family rebuilds in woodland isolation—until their third act sinks faster than a lead Titanic. The Twin builds mysterious dread rooted in paranormal possessions and possible cult activity, but its ill-serving payoff vaporizes the crippling weight of loss fastened to each character.
Teresa Palmer and Steven Cree reunite after A Discovery of Witches, playing grieving spouses Rachel and Anthony. While their son Elliot (Tristan Ruggeri) is still very alive, his twin Nate recently passed away during a tragic accident. Rachel struggles to cope daily, so Anthony relocates his family to Finland’s isolated countryside. He prays the distance will help Rachel’s condition improve, but her inability to function after Nate’s death worsens. The house begins to fill with symbolic reminders of Nate, and that’s when Elliot starts acting strange—like his brother is still around, somehow in communication.
Mustonen’s influences run rampant, from the charming cultish wilds of The Wicker Man or Midsommar to something sinister like Brandon Christensen’s Still/Born, where a mother must protect her living offspring from its undead sibling. The Twin establishes these ties by introducing a quaint Finnish community’s elders at Rachel and Anthony’s welcome party, where few speak English and townsfolk stare ominous gazes like in any “outsiders at risk” thriller. Actress Barbara Marten plays the important pot-stirring role of Helen, Rachel’s English-speaking ally. Helen’s grandmotherly calmness warms this soothing balm but only for a few minutes—she doubles down on the uncomfortable vibes that Mustonen softly stokes throughout Rachel’s increasingly worrisome breakdown. Rachel, Anthony and Elliot effectively bicker at home about possible ghosts or tainted memories, sneaking ritualistic implications into an otherwise spiritual tale.
That said, there’s always something off-kilter about the balance of the performances. Palmer is the disbelieved housewife ranting about a possibly possessed son; Cree shakes his head, smiles with neighbors and attempts to write in peace as an author dragged down by family predicaments. There’s an obvious “Crazy Wife” and “Sane Dad” dynamic that The Twin struggles to execute past the same generic employments done over and over by countless horror tales. That’s not to discredit Palmer’s interactions within frightful setups like mirror jump scares, or clear examples of demonic intervention—Palmer carries long stretches of The Twin. Cree just rarely lives up to his end of the performative bargain as imagination and reality collide in Elliot’s bedroom (Nate’s empty mattress is a morbid centerpiece).
The Twin isn’t shy about its horror visuals. That’s where Mustonen excels. Direct examples would reveal spoilers, so I’ll keep it vague: Unholy pacts, despicable traditions and unresting twins. Think Kurtis David Harder’s Spiral and mistrusting thy neighbors. These moments engage past the paint-by-numbers blueprints of borrowed character arcs until the film’s “shocking twist” becomes an overlong explainer that extinguishes every ounce of tension. Conversations about mental health are vital, and it’s a huge part of The Twin, but positive intentions don’t save the film’s laugh-worthy finale (in execution, not theme). It erases any subversions and enhances its formulaic tropes in such a disservice to momentum that attempts to snowball…then melts like it’s been blasted by a heat ray.
Bluntly, The Twin sticks its landing like the gymnast in Final Destination 5. Mustonen shows sufficient command of emotional horror storytelling until reaching the point of no return. Palmer bears the burden of a heartbroken mother asked to soldier forward as a steady-legged lead, betrayed by the plot’s tumble down a staircase towards the exit sign. Perhaps others won’t be as bothered by or even might applaud the ambitious stance. More power to them. I wish my complete thoughts weren’t soured by the last overpowering taste in my mouth.
Director: Taneli Mustonen
Writer: Taneli Mustonen, Aleksi Hyvärinen
Starring: Teresa Palmer, Steven Cree, Tristan Ruggeri, Barbara Marten
Release Date: May 6, 2022 (Shudder)
Matt Donato is a Los Angeles-based film critic currently published on SlashFilm, Fangoria, Bloody Disgusting, and anywhere else he’s allowed to spread the gospel of Demon Wind. He is also a member of the Hollywood Critics Association. Definitely don’t feed him after midnight.