Well, I’ll be filing this one under “Not What I Expected”. I’m not sure it even qualifies as horror, in spite of the constant presence of a handful of ghosts. None of this is a bad thing though, because the movie, whatever it is, is actually strangely involving.
It starts with the main character, a woman named Jean, driving out of a city, with melancholy news on the radio about the banking crisis and the economic downturn. She ends up in a rural area and I instantly had visions of where this was going, but instead of a dilapidated farmhouse or something like that, she ends up at a very sleek, very modern house. But the set-up remains familiar, because Jean turns out to be a struggling writer, seeking solitude within which to work. Of course, we soon find out that she’s not alone. But that’s pretty much where the comparisons to THE SHINING end. And the biggest flaw of the movie becomes clear – it’s just not good at being scary.
Jean and the audience are quickly treated to an Overly Creepy TV that wakes Jean up in the middle of the night by turning itself on. It would have been way more effective the second time if they hadn’t tipped their hand too soon by trying so hard to make the first occurrence the most frightening thing ever. The appearance of the very casual, conversational ghosts could have been alarming but instead just seems like a minor intrusion. They seem bored. We get a professor and his sister and her husband, plus an Indian cab driver and the brooding, mysterious ghost we come to know, rather poetically, as Geoff Blank.
Naturally there are psyche issues that emerge, raising the question of whether or not this is all in Jean’s mind. It turns out that Jean is a former investment banker, guilt-ridden about her part in the economic meltdown (though this is muddled by her also being traumatized by 9/11). The problem is that once we find out who the ghosts are and hear them talking, there’s not really anything to be afraid of.
There’s some clever staging and editing, but the dialog and reactions seem a bit stilted at first. Then something else happens — Jean’s plays scrabble with a ghost, and I started to realize that I had to forget about this being a standard ghost story. THE HOUSE is a very idiosyncratic, almost like a strange reality show where they threw a melting pot of people into a house to live together for a while and hash out their issues. With most of those people being dead. And it does end up going some very surprising places.
The direction overall is efficient and economical. And the cinematography serves the gorgeous house well. And it’s refreshing to see such a wide demographic of characters and worldview represented, well-played by the whole cast. I’m not sure why, but it’s cool to see an Asian American woman talking about wanting a joint.
On the minus side is a horribly jarring music video three-quarters of the way into a movie that’s too long to begin with. And the overall message of forgiveness and moving on seems trite. And I sure do wish it were actually scary. I can see this catching on, though, with people who like a large dose of sensitivity to go with their supernatural.
Review: Baron Von Marte