Simply Has a Certain Je ne Sais Quoi
When audiences first walked into the theater to watch this Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively feature, they had no idea what to expect — and that’s exactly what left them wondering if they were watching a wannabe-slasher or a supernatural film. And the actual answer to both of these observations is that it’s not either one. A Simple Favor skillfully tricks its audience into thinking that they’re about to watch a ghost story unfold with Emily (Lively) haunting Stephanie (Kendrick). This is precisely how it leads us into thinking that we just walked into a classic horror movie: the lighthearted beginning, the mysterious disappearance of one of the main characters — who is the queen of mystery — and, of course, the complications that arise when the other character looks as if she could somehow be the culprit.
We’re given a typical “whodunit” theme as we try to decipher whether sweet and awkward Stephanie could have somehow gotten rid of her “best friend,” whom she just met a couple weeks beforehand and traded her deepest, darkest secrets with. Or, was it Emily’s husband, Sean (Henry Golding). who at one point seems suspicious since most of us have seen the so-called caring husband suddenly reveal his horrible side, like with Harrison Ford’s character in What Lies Beneath? In other words, A Simple Favor has the essence of the French music it incorporates: Je ne sais quoi.
Setting the Stage
The film introduces us to polar opposite mothers, Stephanie and Emily. Stephanie is a single mom, whose enthusiastic personality shows how much she loves her son and all children. Emily is a wealthy businesswoman who, although she insists she loves her son, acts like she has no relationship with him. When these two worlds collide, we can’t help but wonder if Emily chooses Stephanie as her next victim of mystery, or if their “friendship” is by chance.
After we quickly get to know Stephane and her perky character, we gradually learn how much of an enigma Emily is. First, she drinks like a major alcoholic even though she’s not. Second, Emily talks behind her husband’s back yet behaves super-in-love with him when she sees him. Third, she hates getting her picture taken for reasons yet to be revealed.
When Stephanie innocently snaps Emily’s photo in the park, we see a very slight switch in an otherwise stone-cold person as she threatens Stephanie to delete the picture immediately. Now we’re left questioning whether Emily is a trained assassin who will kill Stephanie later, or if this is a preface of something more eerie.
There are also several unanswered questions here as well. If Emily is so successful in her career, why didn’t she just leave Sean? Why did she suddenly take a liking to this picture-perfect mom, Stephanie?
Once Emily goes missing, we’re given this brilliant trail of breadcrumbs, which we think will lead to a ghost story.
After Emily asks Stephanie for “a simple favor,” she quickly realizes that her friend vanished in thin air without a trace. Now, the search is on and we’re wondering whether Stephanie has a double personality every time the camera pans to her face. Did she get rid of Emily?
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Those thoughts quickly become heightened once Emily is found drowned, which Stephanie announces to other moms on her now-successful vlog. Sean goes to identify her, and we see what appears to be Emily pale and soaked from the bottom of a random lake in Michigan. We’re left wondering if Stephanie is really the culprit or if Sean had something to do with his wife’s murder. And this gradually becomes apparent when Stephanie starts seeing signs of a haunting.
After moving in with Sean once Emily is found dead (or was she?), Stephanie starts feeling the guilt creep up on her that she’s sleeping with the husband of her dead best friend, who could have been murdered for all she knows. The closet scene is arguably the most jump-scare-worthy moment in the entire flick because of how quickly it happens. Stephanie is rocking out to dead Emily’s fancy French playlist while taking out all of Emily’s wardrobe and putting her own in the closet. Then suddenly, all of Emily’s clothes are put back in their original places, and Stephanie is completely freaked out.
Next, Stephanie gets a call from the familiar voice who calls her “brotherf–ker,” since Emily is the only one in the world who knows about Stephanie’s dirty little secret. Emily and Sean’s son even tells his dad and Stephanie that he “saw mom” and she gave him a message for Stephanie.
Now that we’ve all been yanked into this ever-changing storyline, the audience is thinking that they’re about to see Emily’s ghost, or worse, her dead corpse, even though that’s the furthest from the truth of what this film really is.
Aside from the apparent apparition we think Stephanie is experiencing, there’s even more to the story, starting with Sean.
The ultimate complication in any murder mystery is a spouse finding solace in sleeping with the total opposite of their dead partner, offering emotional support. Stephanie is this figure.
After we’ve questioned whether she is the villain or not, viewers are left to wonder about Sean’s motives. How could you just sleep with your wife’s best friend right after burying her? How could you be so placid following the death of your child’s mother? Is he about to snap?
We soon get to know Sean’s daily life. He goes to work at the university, he comes home to his son and Stephanie (in place of his dead wife) and seemingly sleeps soundly at night. He seems to have no cares in the world after telling his new girlfriend he loves her.
Although we learn the true point of A Simple Favor by the end, we’re already racing to catch up to the two incredible leads who really threw us into a whirlwind. There are points when we think, “Are they both in on this?” But, ultimately, the movie plays a neat hat trick on its audience by pulling us into something that emulates the typical horror film — a murder mystery ghost story.
While we find out that we’re completely incorrect with this, we leave this film rejuvenated. Its witty comedy and sleek sarcasm underlies its overall manipulation, between both the characters with each other and the audience with the plot. Even though it’s not a horror thriller, A Simple Favor cleverly treats its viewers like a yo-yo; it knows exactly how to control itself while letting us experience the ups and downs of this extreme drop ride.
A Simple Favor (2018) Official Lionsgate Trailer
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