A mind-bending thriller set in Portland, Oregon about an unspoken tragedy and its effects on a house, its temporary caretakers and the owners, a classical music critic and his wife on a recuperative trip to Italy.
We, as human beings with minds and spirits and all manner of squishy bits, are shaped by the things that happen both to and round us. These incidents influence our thoughts, our feelings and our personality. We react to situations dependent on the outside stimulus we’ve been exposed to. But what if the stimulus we were exposed to was not only from outside but also being experienced by someone else?
In House of Last Things, an affluent couple, Alan (Grimm’s Randy Schulman) and Sarah (Diane Dalton), set off for a trip to Italy, allowing Sarah to recover after being released from an institution. In order to keep the house safe, Alan hires a house sitter in the form of Kelly, played by Lindsey Haun (True Blood). Kelly is all bubblegum and sunshine, devoted to her challenged brother, Tim, played by Breaking Bad’s RJ Mitte. Inviting him to stay with her whilst she housesits, Tim feels immediate unease feeling the house holds a dark secret. His apprehension at staying there causes the siblings to quarrel.
Things becomes exacerbated when Kelly’s abusive boyfriend Jesse (Blake Berris) turns up out of the blue and firmly plants his feet under the table. Despite the potential for nastiness, a bizarre family dynamic arises as Kelly and Jesse play house, with Tim stepping in as their wayward son. When Jesse inexplicably kidnaps a child from a local supermarket for reasons he can’t explain, he formulates a plan to hold him to ransom. As he carries out his plan, the twenty-somethings are exposed to numerous bloody and nerve-tingling hallucinations. Meanwhile in Italy, Alan has also begun to find himself plagued by visions of the house, whilst Sarah’s sanity is once more called into question.
Directed by Michael Bartlett (The Little Girl Who Fell From a Tree), House of Last Things is the cinematic equivalent of a stew. A large portion of seemingly unrelated scenarios are thrown into a large pot. There’s Jesse’s sudden interest and knowledge in expensive wine, Alan having his breakfast rudely interrupted by a clown demon, and then there’s the aforementioned kidnapped child who seems to be taking his sudden swiping all in good stead. These are seasoned with Lynch-esque direction and allowed to simmer for a very long time. The final result is certainly one of polarizing tastes.
As well as director and editor, Bartlett is also producer and editor for the film. And whilst Barlett’s visuals are brave and interesting – his cinematographer being Ken Kelsch who has worked on, amongst other things, Bad Lieutenant and Driller Killer – there is a sense that he is perhaps too close to the film. House of Last Things reaches a point where it could do with a gentle trim of its ideas. There is so much going on that instead of feeling intrigued, you can become impatient and wish the ending to come quicker than it does.
A large part of the problem may come from the narrative which is most certainly not linear: choosing to flip flop between Kelly’s present, Alan’s past, and even a time before the house was built. At times it can be difficult to keep up with, which is potentially a deliberately ploy by Bartlett, who also wrote the film. Whilst seemingly scattershot, the numerous plots dovetail in the final act to give us a conclusion of some kind, but certainly not one that will be appreciated by everyone.
Those looking for a haunted house movie that will test their little grey cells rather than raise the hairs on the back of their necks, will certainly feel at home here. No pun intended… Maybe. However, those not willing to let the film’s visuals and dramatics wash over them may find themselves alienated by it all as it unfurls. Not that that will be entirely their fault. House of Last Things is an intriguing film that would benefit from a little refinement.