And Then There Were None
House is director Robby Henson's second stab at conveying Christian values via the horror genre. The first was Thr3e, a good idea that seemed emasculated to the point of hilarity. House actually feels like a real horror film -- having gathered some decent genre talent while generating an appropriately freaky atmosphere -- but when it comes to pushing his ulterior motives, Henson finds himself floundering in a sea of melodrama and cornball writing. Unfortunaely, that undermines the very message he's trying to get across.
Reynaldo Rosales and Heidi Dippold are the stars of this magical misery tour. They play Jack and Stephanie, a couple whose relationship is on the rocks. On the way to making a last-ditch effort to patch things up, the two experience a spot of car trouble in the backwoods of Alabama. Jack and Stephanie manage to find shelter at a hole-in-the-wall bed and breakfast, where they encounter another traveling couple (Julie Ann Emery and J.P. Davis), as well as the establishment's sinister owner (Leslie Easterbrook). Things take a turn for the worse when the guests discover they've become the latest playthings for the Tin Man, a diabolical mastermind who issues a rather muderous edict. If he's supplied with one dead body by sunrise, he'll let the survivors walk away; if not, hunting season is open for business. As the Tin Man begins his assault, Jack, Stephanie, and the others must decide whether to succumb to their captor's will or fight in order to survive the most hellish night of their lives.
There's a good idea buried somewhere within House, but the filmmakers don't seem to know where to dig. The entire concept, an unabashed Saw ripoff, boasts the potential to be just as thought-provoking. Henson is definitely onto something, beginning the film in standard slash-and-stalk fashion before moving the story into more heady territory. As it turns out, the captives have as much reason to fear one another as they do the Tin Man, for the guilt of their past sins is what the fiend uses to turn them against one another. Such scenes award the film a certain depth, a challenging of one's moral code that could have propelled the movie into horror's big leagues. But when the characters start talking, things soon become really cheesy.
If House had been simpler, it would have been better. Just take some nubile young victims, throw in a demented puppet master, and let the games begin. But in his efforts to chuck in everything but the kitchen sink, Henson overcomplicates the story. There's a whole "creepy hillbillies" angle with Easterbrook's character and her demented brood which amounts to a lot of useless clutter and makes things even more confusing. Henson's melodramatic streak also does more harm than good, chintzifying the few moments of intelligence he displays. And the acting? Well, newcomers like Dippold unconvincingly screech their way to the ending credits, and genre veterans like Bill Moseley spend their time grimacing at the camera.
I wouldn't call House a completely lost cause, for it includes some impressive elements, especially the often effective camerawork and the film's intriguing core concept. But as ol' Jack Burton once said, it's all in the reflexes. As ambitious as its objectives may be, House appears as slow to pick up on them as any other cut-rate chiller.
MY RATING: ** (out of ****)
(Released by Lions Gate Home Entertainment and rated "R" for some violence and terror.)