OUR HOUSE IS A HOUSE FULL OF HAUNTING TROPES.
Upon finishing Our House, my very first review for CineDump, I thought to myself, “they’re going to think I’m an asshole”. I was really hoping to express the love and passion I have for a genre that I’ve been enamored with since I was, believe it or not, three years old, ever since I first laid my eyes upon John Carpenter’s roaring horror film, Christine, another film that combines ghosts and machine, albeit in a much different sense. But then I realized, if I’m going to be writing here, you’ll all have to get used to my sarcasm eventually, and I can’t imagine a better opportunity to express that than by discussing Our House, a film that I truly believe is trying to bore its audience to death for some unfathomable, sinister purpose.
Emerging from the darkness of IFC films comes this quiet ghost story from director Anthony Scott Burns (The Father’s Day segment in Holidays). Written by Nathan Parker (Moon) and based on the Matt Osterman film Ghost from the Machine (2010), Our House tells the story of Ethan (Thomas Mann), a young inventor who is trying to develop a device that provides cordless electricity. Instead, the chord is pulled on his parents, and he is tasked with taking care of his siblings, angsty teen Matt (Percy Hynes White) and sweet, innocent Becca (Kate Moyer). Out of desperation, Ethan works to complete his device, eventually discovering that it has the power to amplify paranormal activity in the house, unleashing spirits that may or may not be those of his parents.
As with most remakes, Our House lacks the originality and spirit that made its predecessor a worthwhile experience. The film doesn’t just scrap the more on the nose but better-sounding title for one that makes it sound like a nineties sitcom, Burns and Parker also call upon supernatural forces to undermine and weaken everything about the first film that makes it stand out. Each and every character feels forced, with their motivations sketchy at best.
In the original, Ethan’s focus was more on an obsessive will to bring his parents back from the dead, believing that people leave behind energy that could be tapped into after they die. Here, he stumbles ass-backwards into the plot by accidentally opening up his house to ghosts, while also refusing to believe that his siblings are having spooky encounters. Which do you think is more interesting, a macabre obsession or another dumb kid playing around with ghosts? Our House hardly even bothers with its other characters, including Ethan’s throwaway girlfriend Hannah (Nicola Peltz) and weird neighbor Tom (Robert B. Kennedy) whose role is far more meaningful in Ghost from the Machine. There isn’t enough development to care about anyone outside of Ethan and his siblings, and it’s not even Ethan that steals the show. That honor belongs to younger brother Matt, who best reflects the vulnerable suffering that comes with the loss of a loved one.
Like so many other direct to VOD ghost films these days, Our House isn’t much more than a dusty old chest in the basement full of supernatural horror tropes. There’s the little girl who is the first to see and talk to ghosts, a device that opens up the house to the spirit world, ghostly messages left in mirrors, kids playfully interacting with the ghosts, ala Poltergeist, the creepy neighbor, a house with a secret, including secret rooms. Hell, you even have the cliché that’s become all too overused in modern horror, the classic “paranormal Google search” montage. I don’t often see the need for remakes, especially when the film being remade is as recent as ten years ago, but if you’re going to do it, at least put in SOMETHING that retunes the original or feels fresh. I’m actually astounded a writer as talented as Parker had anything to do with such a derivative narrative. I must be dead and haunting this computer because nothing makes sense anymore.
All of this could be forgivable if Burns didn’t ask for so much patience from his audience for such little payoff. Our House invites us in with the promise of a frightening haunt film, and then drags viewers along for a solid seventy minutes with so few scares and such little atmosphere that fans would likely forget they were watching a horror film if it weren’t for Mark Korven’s eerie, electric score to remind us. That’s not an exaggeration by the way. Outside of a few moments of smoky writing in a mirror or Becca informing her brothers that she’s been talking to ghosts, there is hardly a moment of suspense until the final act. Our House moves at the pace of a legless, animated corpse searching for someone to blow its brains out and put it out of its misery. Given the chance, I would have gladly accepted.
Once the horror finally shows up though, Our House manages to get its smoky, black tendrils wrapped around viewer’s spines. The entire finale is rather traditional in terms of twists and shocks, but all of it is done with a competent touch. The ghosts themselves have shades of the spirits from Carpenter’s The Fog, hidden entirely in blackness with a sinister glowing of the eyes that is sure to prickle the hairs on your neck. Yes, they’re designed with CGI, and yes, the smoky look is overdone, but Burns has an eye for framing which allows for the look to be effective, especially during the last few minutes, which are decidedly scarier than the rest of this visual sleeping pill.
It’s unfortunate that Our House falls so far into the trap of standard haunting tropes because at its core, there is an emotional story that wants to be so much more than what we are given. Don’t forget, this is a story about three kids overcoming the death of their parents, and all three actors/actresses do their best to portray the pain and anger that comes with that.
The one thing which Our House ALMOST does really well with is its theme, which revolves around the question of what’s more important to us, our obsessions or our families? Or, more specifically, what matters more to us, man or machine? It’s an interesting thought to pose, and one which I think is a step in the right direction for a modern era obsessed with technology. In order to take the ghost sub-genre further, I expect to see a lot more horror films experimenting with the use of technological devices and their connections to alternate dimensions and spirit worlds. In this case, Our House has a lot of underpowered ideas that never quite reach the electrifying peak they’re intended to.