Three sisters, Teig, Sirah and Lily, steal a case full of heroin from Sirah’s drug dealing boy friend. Intent on staying out of sight until it is safe to approach a potential buyer, the girls hide out in their old family home, abandoned for 10 years. Two weeks turns into a lifetime when the isolation settles in to rattle their psyche…and the ghost from their past return to haunt their souls.
House of Bad from writer director Jim Towns (along with co-writer Scott Frazelle) is an auspicious, competent thriller with supernatural undertones sprinkled throughout. The film is primarily about the three sisters surviving together in isolation, fighting boredom, withdrawal and each other. The supernatural elements, the ghosts of their parents, serve to stir up the pot and provide insight into the girl’s background and history in a fascinating, entertaining collection of flashbacks and ghostly apparitions. A paranoia and fear sets in, the girls begin to turn on each other and thing go south very quickly. The driving force behind the film is the promising acting from the film’s three leads: Heather L. Tyler as Teig, the oldest sister with all the plans; Sadie Katz as Sirah, the middle sister torn between her siblings; and, Cheryl Sands as Lily, the youngest battling a drug addiction. The scares are fleeting at best, but the tension is thick.
Director Jim Towns films much of House of Bad as if it were a grind-house cheepie from the drive-in era, crude and very straightforward. But, then he sprinkles in remarkable imagery when most needed, such as when Teig struggles with her decisions and self-worth, standing naked in the bathroom with a loaded gun pointed to her head. In one scene he clumsily handles the girls confronting Sirah’s pissed-off boyfriend that is devoid of tension and composition, while another, similar scene where Sirah and Teig face off in the creepy, desolate empty cellar, is steeped in white-knuckled confrontation. But, it is the flashbacks where Towns succeeds the most, bringing an oppressive, depressing glimpse into the girl’s turbulent history. He also continues that feeling of dread as he begin to have the spirits of their abusive and neglectful parents seep from the shadows.
With any low-budget indie-thriller with a tight, small cast, it is the acting that needs to carry the film. House of Bad has a terrific trio in Heather L. Tyler, Sadie Katz and Cheryl Sands. They quickly establish the bonds and turmoil within their relationships creating a whole believable scenario with three sisters on the run. While their performances are initially uneven, each struggling to elevate the emotions to their utmost potential, they bring an authentic and captivating dynamic to not only their own plights, but their shared history and their interactions with each other. In the end, their performances are memorable and gripping.
For horror fans, the ghostly apparitions are sadly lacking, limited by scope and budget. For the story, they do not need to be more than they are, but the supernatural aspects never pay off as much as the psychological implication of their meaning and influence on the girl’s despair and decisions. Haunting has rarely been this dull. And it unfortunately serves to dilute an otherwise potentially powerful story. The ghosts of the dominant, insolent father and the pregnant, bloodied mother end up watered down and ineffectual when presented as full fledged spirits or ghosts. However, when they are shadowed in the background, out of focus, with only the weight of their everlasting control on the girl’s fears spread across the three sisters’ expressions and in their eyes, the idea behind the ghosts prevails. The emotional impact is where the film succeeds and make its biggest impression.
House of Bad is a promising film from an up-and-coming filmmaker, director Jim Towns, that leaves a lasting impression on its audience mostly due to the terrific performances from Heather L. Tyler, Sadie Katz and Cheryl Sands. The film has little to offer for hard-core horror fans looking for gore, monsters and scares but it does deliver a tight little psychological thriller with an interesting premise and a strong cast. It is short, simple and to the point with authentic characters and conflicts taking its three leads down a dark spiral into horror – direct in its intent. The film kicks into gear toward its final act as the worst things the sisters can ever face are themselves, both their own inner fears and the paranoia and distrusts of their siblings. With no where to run and no one to turn to, the sisters succumb to the horrors of their past, the ghosts of their disparaging childhoods. It is the emotional toll on the sisters and the effects of the haunting memories that make House of Bad stand out from the pack.
3 out of 5