Watching The House reminded me of college, of the days when filmmakers were producing slick but low budget horror shorts for YouTube in the hopes that these efforts would open the door to recognition and funding to make feature films.
Every weekend, I joined a group of friends to watch the latest Marble Hornets outings, however many there were, not to delight in the horror ourselves, but because we had one friend who was especially susceptible to the quick cuts and often eventless jumpscares. Edge of her seat through the entire five-to-fifteen minute runtime, she would gasp at any sudden noise and cover her face at any static glitch or visual abnormality. Then, when Slenderman (perhaps in his best role) finally revealed himself to the camera, she would let out a shaking scream, and we’d have to turn the lights on while she caught her breath. She hated horror movies and would never watch them on her own or by choice. She was, however, the only person who made these videos jarring and exciting. Watching her tension and fear grow more palpable bred a sort of osmosis of terror. I felt chills and goosebumps just wondering when she would stir or scream, and it made these mundane and uneventful videos fresh for folks who are numb to the cheap tricks of paint-by-numbers horror.
I suggest you find a friend like that before entering The House.
Director: Reinert Kiil
Release Date: March 5, 2019
Even shot in a style reminiscent of YouTube shorts working for five or so minutes to reach a scare, The House has that over-lit quality that bleaches actors’ skin and adds too much contrast to a room. It lathers the screen with overt Gothic imagery like it’s following a check list of things that ought to scare people. Abandoned house in the middle of nowhere? Check. Radio that suddenly turns on by itself? Check. A bedroom full of creepy dolls? Check. A closet no one wants to go into? Check. A weird book containing at least one stick figure drawing of dead people? Check and check! The audio is also dutifully mixed so dialogue and effects are whispers compared to the soundtrack which pounds and crashes whenever it damn well pleases in the hopes of dragging some sort of physical response out of viewers. It only succeeds in eliciting frustration over fear.
The story plants us in the snow-covered wilderness of Norway under Nazi control during WWII. Two soldiers are bringing a gangrenous prisoner along as they trek through the woods in search of some sort of shelter. Their compass and map begin to disagree, however, and they find a lone house standing in the snow. They enter, and then the spooky shit begins.
There is a noticeable uptick in quality once the trio enter the house, and it has nothing to do with the filming or story. No, I could finally breathe with relief, because I no longer needed to squint until my eyes twitched trying to decipher The House‘s subtitles. This might be a bit of a rant, but I don’t understand the obsession with having tiny and white subtitles in movies at all. White is objectively the worst color for reading subtitles (I don’t have any scientific data to back this up), and why use 11pt font when there’s plenty of screen to spare? As someone with a visual impairment who watches a lot of foreign films, I’m often flummoxed by localizers choosing text that makes reading the film a chore, but The House is one of the worst offenders with its minuscule white text with almost no outline washed out by heaps of snow for around half of the entire film. It’s terrible. The only saving grace here is that the plot is familiar enough that if you’ve seen a horror movie before, then you don’t need to read most of the dialogue to know what’s going on.
Anyway, once the Nazis are in the house, they soon realize that something is up. There’s hot food on the stove, the house appears to be lived-in, but no one is present. Through flashbacks, we find out that the house was the site in which a girl had been possessed, and her spirit still haunts the closet waiting for fresh souls to make suffer for their sins. The Nazis try to escape but find that all paths lead back to the house and that they’re even caught in a sort of time loop, which may leave them suffering for eternity. The time loop is a neat trick, but The House doesn’t do as much with the concept as something like The Endless does. It seems to exist only to help expand the film to feature length with only a few not-very-good jumpscares to show for it.
It is, however, competently produced. The are some strong, if overly traditional, shots (like the shadow of a priest’s cross spread huge over the face of a squirming and terrified girl) that might have been standouts in a better paced and more impactful film. The sounds of ghostly gunfire ripple through the forest with a feeling of depth and even the sudden cracks of the radio coming to life on its own have layers of electrical static and garbled speech. It’s only a shame this is used to middling effect with no clear goal in mind.
As a YouTube short, The House probably would have been fine. The setup is interesting as I’ve never seen a ghost story about Nazi-controlled Norway, but it’s not used for much more than to have Nazis as shorthand for “the bad guys” without putting much effort into characterization. Any thumps of bass and horror images last for a few quick frames in what would be a fitting end for a short, but this keeps running, and there’s just not enough tension or buildup to keep anyone who isn’t easily manipulated by cheap scares from feeling resigned to its looping time and structure until they can finally escape The House, themselves.