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January 12, 2019

Our House

by Franz Patrick


Our House (2018)
★ / ★★★★

Haunted house flick “Our House” is so boring, so tonally flat, that not even the loudest ominous score is enough to jolt the viewer into caring—strange because the story revolves around siblings whose parents perished in a traffic accident. It has the foundation of a dramatic horror film in which a family’s crippling grief is eventually exorcised by facing literal demons, but the screenplay by Nathan Parker and direction by Anthony Scott Burns lack inspiration. When it doubt, it relies on silly- and fake-looking visual effects—are shadow monsters supposed to be scary? Were they ever?

The eldest of the three siblings is played by Thomas Mann, whose effortless awkwardness is not utilized in such a way that is endearing, someone who we can or want to root for against a mysterious paranormal enemy. Instead, Ethan is written without a strong personality. In the opening minutes, he is established to be a really ambitious college student—so convinced and motivated that he and his team can change the world by creating a device capable of delivering electric power to all appliances without wires . But when tragedy inevitably strikes, his edge, qualities that make him interesting, are swept under the rug. So that viewers would like him on top of feeling sorry for him, he is turned into a bore. And because the protagonist is pushed on autopilot, the rest of the film follows.

Strong horror movies with a concept, especially those that use science—or even pseudoscience—as a gateway for possible paranormal activity, are not afraid to explain how, for example, a technology of interest works. Even if it does not make a lick of sense, entertainment may sprout from the attempt. Here, however, we are merely shown the device spin about. There are buttons on the black rectangular box but we do not learn what any of them do. I could not even tell which one is the on/off button. It is extremely vague. I got the impression that not one of the filmmakers involved has an understanding of basic physics or electrical engineering. Would it have been too much to consult an expert so that the material may command some semblance of weight to it?

Scary movie tropes run amok without fresh ideas that propel them. Bathroom scenes involving a child (Kate Moyer) being threatened to drown in the bathtub with the mere presence of the camera commands no tension. The rebellious-looking middle child (Percy Hynes White—who gives a curious performance because there are times when it looks like he is about to cry any second and oftentimes for no reason) being blamed for initial paranormal occurrences can be seen from a mile away. Due to the lack of interest in establishing each sibling as a unique person with complex thoughts and emotions, one wonders eventually why it is worth watching these characters. The three of them living in a haunted house is not enough. They must be interesting even if there weren’t any haunting.

Perhaps the worst offender is the lack of an effective rising action. In the screenplay’s attempt to neuter Ethan by showing the every day ennui of taking his brother and sister to school, going to his unrewarding workplace, and returning home with a sink full of dishes, it forgets that the protagonist has a brilliant mind. It is necessary to show his depression considering the misfortune that has befallen his family. But without showing the phoenix rising slowly from the ashes, the redemption arc, the light of hope, there is no reason to watch the picture because all it offers is tedium.

And notice the cheapness and lack of subtlety of the final shot. It perfectly summarizes the laziness of the filmmakers involved. I felt annoyed because they could not be bothered to come up with a strong, original closing sentence. Instead, they present the viewer with something that is borrowed from any other forgotten horror film. It is a critique of itself.

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