Two families go to an open house and can’t leave.
Orchestrating an effective haunted house movie is a tricky egg to crack. Singular focus on atmosphere could lead to a rather tedious experience, as displayed by the classics “The Amityville Horror” and “The Haunting of Hill House.” On the flip side, concentration aimed in the singular direction of special effects and fun house thrills seldom leads to satisfying viewing either. I submit the wretched remakes of the two previously mentioned films as Exhibits A and B for this argument. “Poltergeist” still remains one of the few that managed to combine both elements without losing the central theme that will keep the night light industry in thriving business until the end of days: This could happen to you. Even skeptics of the supernatural will concede that they are more likely to hear a bump in the night emanating from their kitchen than the howl of a werewolf raiding the fridge for a stray Budweiser. I have no clue why lycanthropes are alcoholics in this scenario, but I hadn’t cracked wise yet in this review and it was starting to get to me.
When saddled with the additional impediment of a tight budget, the options become much more limited. “House Hunting,” the first full-length effort from writer/director Eric Hurt, succeeds marvelously in cultivating a sense of dread without lulling its audience into a blank-faced, “please God let something happen in this snooze-fest” stupor. The central plot is original and rife with possibilities, the editing brisk and skillful, and the characterizations top-notch when compared to other independent chillers bearing comparable tightly-drawn purses. If only the enterprise as a whole wasn’t such a jumbled mess of unconnected ideas, this one could have shone like the proverbial diamond in the rough.
Two separate families, led by patriarchs Don Thomson (lifelong supporting player Art LaFleur, who is outstanding here) and Charlie Hays (Marc Singer, who is, well, “The Beastmaster” here) both arrive at a secluded woodland home as potential buyers with their broods in tow. The mysterious realtor (Jon Cobb), who wears a ludicrous hunter’s cap only Bob and Doug McKenzie could admire, is absent. Instead, they are met by a recorded greeting through an intercom speaker on the front porch inviting them in. Credit must be given to all involved for immediately contracting a case of the willies and deciding to take their business elsewhere. To their misfortune, keen foresight is no more helpful in a horror film than a complete lack of common sense, though appreciated by yours truly. On the way out, they encounter a terrified, bleeding young woman (Rebekah Kennedy) in the drive. Also disconcerting is the fact that no matter how many times they attempt to exit the property, the path leads back to the ominous home. This point is beaten over our heads brutally with multiple angles of Don’s SUV coming and going in a montage that could have easily summed up its intentions in half the time, but that’s quibbling over a minor cinematic infraction. Kubrick built an entire glorious career over excessive repetition. Of course, his lighting was much better.
In a stroke of attention-grabbing genius, “House Hunting” then shifts forward one month, as both families have been living in a frayed routine of frightened dysfunction, not one step closer to discovering a way out or what malevolent force is holding them prisoner. They awaken each morning to the taunting automated voice of the realtor and a pantry cupboard inexplicably stocked with precisely enough cans of beef stew to feed them all. Charlie’s new bride Susan and bitter teen aged daughter Emmy (Hayley DuMond and Janey Gioiosa, both resembling Jennifer Connelly at differing stages) remain antagonistic to one another, while Don’s wife Leslie (Victoria Vance) seems to take on an odd affection for the house, performing daily chores and occasionally sharing tender moments with the hallucinatory ghost of their deceased daughter. Older son Jason (Paul McGill) hobbles around on crutches in a sarcastic gloom, leering at both women of the Hays family. To fight boredom, they take turns assembling a jigsaw puzzle absconded from an upstairs bedroom closet which would probably spell out the word “METAPHOR” in its completion if the reveal was ever spoofed by the Wayans Brothers. You can only hope, Mr. Hurt.
The puzzle itself is nothing more than one of many disjointed elements that begin piling up so swiftly from that point, one has little option but to abandon all hope of making any sense of it. This is a well-advised strategy upon viewing “House Hunting,” because the movie itself throws any semblance of clarification or cohesion under the bus in favor of surreal imagery and baffling turns of events that would have Fellini tweeting “WTF?” immediately following a screening. Though he keeps the intensity building to a near fever pitch by the final moments, it’s quite obvious that Hurt hadn’t a clue where to take it all despite his considerable freshman talents. His handling of the camera is both artful and pragmatic given the limited means, and he elicits fine performances from his actors. As previously stated, LaFleur proves he has the presence and capability to handle a major role, especially when he confronts his future self (don’t ask, “House Hunting” won’t tell) in the woods. The only one who struggles is Singer, who thrives in the moments of quiet despair, but takes Charlie a notch or two over the top when it all begins to hit the fan. This could just be me picking on the “big star” of the show, however. After all, one couldn’t expect the guy to have gleaned any experience in the finer points of his craft on the set of “Watchers II.”
Throw in five or six unwarranted layers of foreshadowing, approximately forty red herrings and a white-faced demon whose presence defies all logic other than as an excuse to forgo the catering service for a day and blow a few bucks at the local theatrical supplies shop, and you have yourself a haunted house flicker show that will certainly not bore. “House Hunting” may bewilder. It may disappoint. For some, it may even infuriate. If you just let all that go, you’ll find yourself impressed by a strong new voice in film making. Don’t repeat my mistake. Expecting to piece this puzzle together (see, I know how to utilize a metaphor) will only result in frustration and a whole page of notes that I haven’t even bothered to glance at while typing this. Like “House Hunting,” there would be no point to it.
House Hunting (2013)
I can’t tell if Getz liked it or not.
Neither could Getz. I’ve been meaning to check this one out again.
I actually liked it…it’s weird& creepy enough…& if nothing else you can come up with your own analysis of the unexplained…but that’s just me…
Overall I’d recommend it, I just like to tease and nitpick. I dug the freewheeling style, but I thought the attempt to bring it all “full circle” at the end was a false note. Also, Singer was clearly outclassed by his fellow actors here. His “Evil Charlie” gave me the giggles.
“Throw in five or six unwarranted layers of foreshadowing”
Yes! Spot on. This filmmaker drilled everything into the viewer so hard, it felt like the producers thought they were making a movie for kindergarteners. In fact, it’s not even foreshadowing as much as it is redundantly doling out clues to puzzles that the viewer has already solved.
“LaFleur proves he has the presence and capability to handle a major role, especially when he confronts his future self”
LaFleur does to a good job, but he’s not confronting his “future self” at all. He’s talking to the realtor, who’s disguised as LaFleur. Both times a character talks to “himself,” the apparent doppelganger flickers back to the realtor while the character’s back is turned. Which is, again, unnecessary, because anyone with half a brain already knows who it really is. I wonder if the reviewer may have missed a plot point or two. Then again, the characters themselves don’t catch on–which is unsurprising, given that there are at least a dozen obvious ways to resolve their situation, and the filmmakers never account for why the characters don’t try these obvious solutions.
Sorry for ranting. It’s just a shame that plot holes and predictability had to more or less ruin what had the potential to be a really cool movie.
LaFleur didn’t confront his “future self” at all. His apparent doppelganger was actually the realtor. In each instance of a character talking to “himself,” the doppelganger’s face flickers back to the realtor’s when the character’s back is turned, just in case the viewer hasn’t already figured it out.
I thought the movie had a lot of potential, but was ruined by predictability and obvious solutions to the characters’ predicament that the characters somehow didn’t thought of, and the filmmakers never explain why not.
Good review. I wish this film had come together even if it meant simplifying the ‘plot’. The atmosphere was there and like the reviewer I was never bored, but the ending doesn’t make any sense at all. I can only recomend this film to hardcore horror fans and that’s with a warning attached.
i agree, i actually liked the way it ended…. the fact that its basically never over .. which explains the begining a little bit like why the girl was running and whoshe was running from… and where her tongue went….. LOL i am assuming he would cut it out so they cant warn any one? but seeing as how she can still write… i cant seen to come up with any other reason on why he would have cut her tongue out.. and i am not sure exactly why its a recurring event… if this was a house or a spirit that was doing thing before these two famillies got there… then why was it so important to add the fact that both families had some how wronged the original family? which in turn makes me wonder than why was the first girl there? did her family also do something to the previous owners for revenge to be taken? but maybe i am thinking to much into it… although what irks me is i understand thats its a never ending cycle.. and there really is no way out… but…. why? why would it start over again if the families that hurt the previous owners were all dead? are we just going after innocent people now for fun? or is there a reason behind it? not ALL of those families could have wronged the previous owners .. so the rest may have been there out of bad luck…. lol