First up on this particular double bill is House of Last Things from 2013, which was written and directed by Michael Bartlett. I can see this movie being the kind of thing that inspires either adoration or contemptuous eye-rolling in the horror community, with fans of more traditional horror maybe thinking it’s too pretentious for its own good, or weird for weirdness’s sake, but I have to tell you, I thought it was dynamite. I wasn’t really sure what to expect going into it, but it honestly just sucked me in, and even though I’m not entirely certain what it all meant, I remained fascinated from start to finish.
The setup of the film is rather mundane: classical music writer Alan Dunne and his wife Sarah—who has just been released from a mental hospital after an undisclosed tragedy—take off for Italy, ostensibly to try to put their lives back together. Alan has hired trailer-trash hottie Kelly to house-sit while they are gone, and predictably, no sooner have the Dunnes toddled off to the airport than Kelly has allowed her mentally challenged brother Tim and her dirtbag boyfriend Jesse to move into the urbane couple’s home to keep her company.
It’s here, though, where the movie begins to get interesting. The way it’s shot is very dreamlike, seemingly going back and forth in time and location, drawing parallels between the Dunnes’ marital breakdown in Italy and the bizarre dynamics of the three people occupying the home in their absence. Things get even weirder when Jesse impulsively kidnaps a boy he finds abandoned in front of a grocery store; although he initially tells Kelly he took the boy to get a ransom from his parents, it soon becomes clear that the boy doesn’t seem in any hurry to leave the house, and further, that no one appears to be looking for him. The mystery gets deeper and deeper, reality becomes murkier and murkier. Who is the boy? What happened to send Sarah to the mental hospital? Is the house haunted, and if so, by what? Why do the identities of the Dunnes and the house-sitters appear to be melding and switching? There are really no clear answers, and while some viewers may find this frustrating, I found myself utterly intrigued, since as most of my previous reviews on this blog have detailed, I do love unsettling, ambiguous films like this.
In fact, House of Last Things, with its off-kilter suburban surrealism, reminded me very strongly of a David Lynch film, with perhaps hints of Roman Polanski thrown in. The whole film is just so alluringly strange, with beautifully nightmarish imagery, overlapping identities and timelines, and copious symbolism, threaded through with Verdi’s Rigoletto and the Biblical Garden of Eden. As with a few other movies I’ve done in this series, I hesitate to call this a horror film; I suppose it’s a ghost story of a sort, but on the whole it’s rather hard to classify. Recommended if your tastes run to more surreal, mysterious, or art-house fare, this movie leaves an eerie impression that lingers long after the end credits roll.
Structured far more like a standard horror film, but also far less interesting, the second film in the lineup was a British one, Reverb, from 2008 (though Amazon Prime lists its release year as 2013 for some reason). It deals with a churlish musician named Alex who has lost his musical mojo after the breakup of his band and his relationship. His friend and co-worker Maddy pulls some strings and gets him a couple overnights at a nearby studio so he can work on a new track that he hopes will restart his flagging career. As the night wears on, Maddy begins hearing weird noises around the studio and on the recordings they’re making, and after doing some research into a mysterious song that Alex wants to sample, becomes convinced that some creepy occult shit happened in the studio back in the 1970s and that Alex is in danger. Things go fairly predictably from there.
Honestly, this one wasn’t terrible, but I can’t say there was much to it either, and my patience with it was tested several times. It seemed like a huge chunk of its running time consisted of Maddy creeping around the darkened studio listening to distorted screams and growls, or Alex staring at his reflection in the bathroom and getting flashes of blood and lyrics written on his skin, set to jarring musical stings. The movie was mediocre, and the plot paper thin, but the director was clearly trying to make it seem scarier and more “edgy” by doing these annoying flashing edits of disturbing imagery. There was so much of it that it really just got boring and silly after a while.
It wasn’t a total waste of time; the actors were fine, though there wasn’t really enough characterization or back story to really make me care about what happened to them. The use of sound was fairly effective, though it would have worked better if it had been reined in some. Even the premise of occult forces summoned through music could have been pretty cool if it had been given more substance and scope. But so much of the movie was set in one location with just a couple of characters, and it just got repetitive; on top of that, the ending brought absolutely no surprises. Like I said, not awful, but not that good either. Just a big ol’ meh. Can’t win ’em all, I guess.
And that’s all for this installment, folks. Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends.