House Movie Review
Take your pick of horror clichés -- House is full of them. Jack and Stephanie's marriage is on the rocks after the death of their daughter and they're driving down a dirt country road. After a few wrong turns and some reckless driving, Jack has an accident and blows out the tires. Cue the rain and dropped cell phone signal as the couple make their way to a nearby house. Once they enter, they meet similar ill-fated guests Leslie and Randy, and the devil-worshiping family who lives there.
And that's when the real trouble begins -- for both the residents and the film. House gives us the beginning of several ideas that never pay off the way they should. The Tin Man is a masked freak that terrorizes the occupants, relaying his "rules" with well-placed tin cans. Between the four prisoners, the Tin Man asks for one dead body by morning and the others would be freed. Just as the foursome is freaking out and looking for an exit, the film nearly forgets all about the Tin Man and, instead, dives into the psyches of the four victims. House trades the fiery orange boiler rooms of Nightmare on Elm Street's dream world for dank gray basement corridors as the foursome make their way through their own psyches. The film flashes back to the characters' pasts to give them motivations for becoming killers -- Jack can blame Stephanie for letting their daughter die, Stephanie blames herself, Randy has daddy issues from his abusive father, and Leslie has uncle issues from her molester relative. Unfortunately, trying to juggle flashbacks is too much for director Robby Henson, who loses sight of the cool and focused Tin Man in favor of a pseudo-psychological storyline. We see the death of Jack and Stephanie's child (from both perspectives) and the childhood of Leslie and Randy, but we don't see the Tin Man. And since the four walking horror clichés can't possibly shoulder a movie based on their character, Henson shifts the focus from the characters to a conflict between good and evil.
If it sounds convoluted, that's because it is. But House's strength isn't in what it does, but what it doesn't do. Unlike many of today's horror offerings, House doesn't rely on Sci-Fi Channel-caliber computer graphics to scare up thrills. Instead, it uses atmosphere to create tension -- and it does it well. The smart set design of the house and the well-shot (if slightly overexposed and sped up) cinematography creates a cohesive visual voice that keeps the story rolling, even when it doesn't make much sense. It adds tension by creating a visual style difference between the present time of inside the house and the various flashbacks -- at times even skewing those two established visual motifs to make you second guess whether what you're watching is really happening or not. Although the story might be filled with misguided and unnecessary twists, the strong visuals and at least the attempted originality in the Tin Man and psychological storylines are worth more than all of the stale teen remakes that today's horror genre usually offers.
Next we play Boggle.