HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: OUR HOUSE (2018)

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OUR HOUSE (2018)

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Brilliant college student Ethan (Thomas Mann) is forced to drop out of school to care for his younger brother Matt (Percy Hynes-White) and his little sister Becca (Kate Moyer) when his parents are killed in a car accident. He keeps working on his experiment, though, a device to create wireless energy. While the device has yet to accomplish it’s purpose, unknown to Ethan, it is opening a doorway to the afterlife. At first Matt and Becca think they are being visited by their parents, but soon it is apparent someone else has crossed over, someone malevolent and with bad intentions.

Film is well directed by Anthony Scott Burns (the Father’s Day segment from Holidays) from a screenplay by Nathan Parker, which is based on Matt Osterman’s indie film Ghost From The Machine. Our House starts out with an interesting way of getting the supernatural ball rolling by having Ethan’s machine accidentally opening a door to the spirit world and letting something into the house. Eventually, though, it does settle into becoming a more routine haunting flick with both a benign and a more malevolent spirit focusing attention on little Becca. It also follows the traditional formula with a skeptical adult…here, Ethan…thinking Becca and Matt are just working through their grief. What elevates the film from the routine, is that at it’s center it is a very poignant story of children of various ages dealing with the sudden death of their parents. Anthony Scott Burns does use the familiar haunting tropes and very well, but it is his portrayal of a family in mourning and how each member deals with it, that makes the movie a supernatural horror with a heart and soul. These kids are on their own and Ethan is trying to raise them and it gives us a strong emotional investment in the young family. Even if we’ve seen the supernatural elements before, they are all the more effective because we care about the characters. Nathan Parker’s screenplay also includes a neighbor, Tom (Robert B. Kennedy) who is suffering from the loss of his wife and whose house is also falling under the machine’s influence. It creates a wild card character whose emotional instability adds some uncertainty, because we know he’ll enter the mix at the worse possible time. It adds to the supernatural elements which are already atmospheric and spooky, despite the familiarity. It was also refreshing that Anthony Scott Burns keeps things subtle, until the very end and even then avoids going over the top, keeping the story grounded. Only a brief scene with a floating doll came across as a bit silly and the rest of the flick is more accessible as it avoids getting too theatrical for it’s own good.

There is a very effective cast here. Lead Thomas Mann is very good as Ethan. He gives us a brilliant student who is a bit self-absorbed concerning his project and his attention is torn away and back to his family as he must now be guardian and provider for Matt and Becca. The actor portrays well both the frustration and the sacrifice as Ethan must put aside his life and be a dad to his siblings. He tries to find time for them and follow his dream and Mann essays the awkward juggling of responsibilities well. Percy Hynes-White is solid as Matt. He’s in high school and his way of handling things is to withdraw, until he thinks there is a chance his parents have returned to the house. He also blames Ethan for their deaths and that adds tension and conflict to an already tense situation. Kate Moyer was really good as little Becca. The young actress portrays a little girl who has her parents ripped away and now seeks solace from what family she has left. When she thinks her parents have returned, she embraces the spirits without realizing they may not be who they seem. She also finds a friend in the spirit of a little girl, Alice who is followed by a far more malevolent entity. In support is Robert B. Kennedy as the emotionally troubled Tom, who has lost his wife and Nicola Peltz as Ethan’s concerned girlfriend Hannah. Sadly Hannah is left on the sidelines for a lot of the movie, until resurfacing at the end. She was a sweet and caring character and her presence is missed when Ethan is sorting out his life.

Overall, this was an effective and enjoyable supernatural thriller. The basic story may have been routine, but the director and script start things off in an intriguing way and keep us interested with a very strong emotional center. The familiar supernatural elements are used well and are more effective as we care about the characters. Anthony Scott Burns keeps things from getting too theatrical which serves the overall story. It’s a refreshingly subtle spook fest with a good cast and a very likable bunch of characters to fear for. As he also had the best segment in Holidays, Burns proves to be a filmmaker to keep an eye on. Another solid release from the folks at IFC Midnight.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 rag dolls.

 

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BARE BONES: ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL and THE NIGHTMARE

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me earl and the dying girl

ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL (2015)

Offbeat comedy/drama tells the story of teen Greg (Thomas Mann) who has little ambition other than to make movie parodies with his friend…or ‘co-worker’ as he likes to refer to him…Earl (RJ Cyler). Greg’s parents (Connie Britton and Nick Offerman) force him to spend time with classmate Rachel (Olivia Cooke) who has been diagnosed with leukemia. Soon a special bond forms between them that changes Greg’s life as her condition worsens and his feelings for her deepen.

Written by Jesse Andrews and directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (The Town That Dreaded Sundown), this is a charming and sometimes very poignant story of love and friendship formed under unusual circumstances. As in most indie films like this, there are some very eclectic characters who are nonetheless appealing and Gomez-Rejon gets good performances out of our leads and support…though Offerman seems to be playing the same oddball he plays in everything he appears in. It’s sentimental at times and funny at others and obviously, there is a degree of sadness given it’s title. If the film stumbles somewhat, it’s in that, at times, it is a little too weird or too quirky for it’s own indie good. Random model animation sequences and Greg’s overly weird parents are sometimes distracting more than accomplishing anything to serve the narrative. Otherwise this is a sweet, sad and sometimes very funny movie.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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THE NIGHTMARE (2015)

Documentary tackles the subject of sleep paralysis, a state where individuals are stuck in-between being asleep and being awake, can’t move their bodies and suffer from extreme hallucinations such as shadow-like intruders. Director Rodney Ascher talks to eight different subjects gathering there stories of extreme cases of this state which has been often mistaken for paranormal, even extraterrestrial activity…and some believe it is.

While the subject in itself is interesting, the documentary stumbles a bit which keeps it from being really compelling. First off, the re-enactments of the hallucinations/events all look the same and utilize the same imagery and techniques so repetitiveness sets in quick when dealing with eight subjects with multiple stories. Another thing is that the subjects chosen all tell similar stories, so despite how intriguing it is, the stories themselves also start to get repetitive quickly. By the third story, from the same person, tedium starts to set in. The documentary also doesn’t seem to arrive at any real conclusions as those interviewed have varied results as to dealing with this phenomena. Some of the subjects seemed to have solved the problem by themselves, commanding the ‘intruders’ away, or by interpreting it as the presence of a dead loved one. Other subjects seem to have their own issues apart from sleep paralysis, so one must wonder if it is something caused by emotional stresses. Still other subjects truly believe that in this state they can see and be seen, by other dimensions, so there is that. We also never talk to any professionals on the subject, so we never get any other side to the story than those telling their own tales. A counterpoint or professional opinion would have added some nice contrast and given us some kind of scientific analysis to consider along with the testimony of Ascher’s subjects.

As the actual phenomena has not been fully explained, there are different points of view and while it is fine that Ascher let’s us decide for ourselves, it also leaves us feeling a bit unsatisfied and like not much was accomplished. Interesting at times, but wears out it’s welcome about an hour in and the lack of professional opinions/diagnosis leaves a void in the storytelling.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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