J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

DWF ’13: House of Good and Evil

It is a remote fixer-upper with no power or phone lines.  The spacious duplex sounds perfect for a young couple hoping to heal their troubled relationship.  They will take it, once the realtor duly shows them the remnant of the Indian burial ground and the stake where they used to burn the witches.  It is cheap, and best of all, the second unit already has tenants: the wildly anti-social, old Mr. and Mrs. Anderson.  Unfortunately, their new surroundings do not have the desired effect in David Mun’s House of Good and Evil (trailer here), which screens tomorrow as part of this year’s Dances With Films.

Chris Conley has trouble with booze and his temper.  When his wife Maggie miscarries, it is his fault.  To make it up to her, he buys her a new house in the middle of nowhere.  Cell service is spotty out there and the lines go down so often the utilities quit repairing them.  However, there is a lovely generator out back. Immediately after moving in, she starts hearing a phone ringing from the Andersons’ side of the house.  Of course, her husband just assumes she is being a hysterical woman and promptly disappears for his forest firefighter training.

Strange things start to happen to around the creaky old house, but it is the sound of the ringing phone and Mrs. Anderson’s weird conversations (that sound a lot like the old “Shut Up Little Man” recordings) that really get to her.  Eventually, she becomes rather preoccupied with her unseen neighbors.

What really distinguishes House from the indie horror pack is the mournful vibe Mun achieves.  One gets a powerful sense things would not be right between the Conleys even if they had moved into a “House of Just Plain Good.”  Sensitively lensed by Jared Noe and nicely enhanced by Mickey Ray’s detailed sets, House has an unusually strong sense of mise-en-scène compared to the genre standard.  The problem is the screenplay.  Anyone with a few midnight movies under their belts will predict the third act Shyamalan well before it drops.

Still, Rachel Marie Lewis soldiers on quite compellingly as Maggie Conley and Saved by the Bell refugee Christian Oliver is actually not bad as her frustrated and frustrating husband.  Some of their scenes together have real bite.  Unfortunately, we know where it is all going, even if they do not.

House should work well as a show reel for Mun, his co-leads, and his technical collaborators.  Audiences will recognize considerable talent went into it, even though the sum of its parts is greater than its whole.  A passable outing for genre diehards looking for something that has not been talked to death on fan sites, House of Good and Evil screens tomorrow night (6/9), concluding the 16th Dances With Films.

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