Anyone who knows me knows I take a strict no-R movie policy for my own personal conviction, but also when it comes
to reviewing movies on JFH. We made an obvious exception for Mel Gibson's The Passion Of The Christ, and have decided,
after much consideration and even talking with people involved with promoting the film, to cover the Christian-made horror film,
House. With the producers being baffled by the MPAA slapping it with an R rating, many parents and moviegoers have
been curious as to what actually lies behind the doors of this supernatural thriller - and a rather intense trailer
for the film has hinted towards a wild ride indeed.
To say I was hesitant in watching House would be a slight understatement, even having ruled out watching it entirely
before the film makers began to voice their thoughts on the rating. The producers claimed the film wasn't any worse than
the PG-13 summer blockbuster The Dark Knight, and after viewing House, I'd have to say the comparison doesn't
quite line up. Where Dark Knight was based more on reality (ironically enough), House lays its foundation
on spiritual fantasy, creating a world that never quite feels tangible or possible. The acting in the latest Batman film, as well
as solid writing, helped create a believable existence for those characters, but House suffers greatly from a weak
script, sometimes stiff acting, and thinly drawn characters. It retains many of the usual problems found in most
Christian-made films, while correcting one big setback -- production. House often captures the look and feel of
a mainstream horror flick with its colors and camera angles and even with most of its effects or makeup. For once, unlike
the most recent spiritual feature, Fireproof, it doesn't look like you're watching a made for TV film on Lifetime.
The screenplay for the adaptation of Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti's popular novel was written by Rob Green who has no notable
films to his credit, and no work in over a decade prior to House. This could be problem number one when it comes to
the incoherence of much of the plot or the stiffness of some of the film's characters. But then again, the film also relies
heavily on the acting chops of roughly five or six characters to carry the movie with no significant star power to drive
it (although, I think we can all come up with a list of stinkers that have featured dependable star power).
TV actor Reynaldo Rosales looks and fits the part as male lead Jack Singleton who really only runs into trouble when he's
expected to recite silly or uninspired dialog (the car ride in the film's beginning is especially tough to watch). His
character's wife, Stephanie, played by the fairly unknown Heidi Dippold, sadly offers very little chemistry with Rosales' Jack,
while J.P. Davis is a little heavy-handed in his approach as the hot headed pretty boy big shot, Randy. Veteran supporting actor
Michael Madsen isn't given much to do as the film's main creep, while Hitch's Julie Ann Emery does her best with the
material at hand as Randy's flame, Leslie. Maybe the film just needed a more versed director than Thr3e's Robby Henson, but
there's a distinct feeling that Dekker and Peretti's story isn't given its best possible representation here.
When it comes to the plot and approaching the horror genre, the story sticks to the formula pretty well. Our main characters
are a married couple who get lost on their way to marriage counseling (?!) and find themselves stranded on a dirt road that
leads them to a creepy old evil house. And like most horror story victims, the characters don't seem to know any better
or suspect anything by the red flags and so they fall into what seems to the us, the viewers, like a pretty obvious trap.
We're eventually introduced to the mysterious killer The Tin Man who conveys the plot to our four victims that if they don't
deliver him one dead body by sunrise, he'll just go ahead and kill them all. What unfolds is a little bit of cat and mouse,
a little bit of psychological thrills, and the harsh realities of mankind coming face to face with their darkest sins,
faults, and fears. The story tries to expose the ugliness of man's sin through the pressures of confronting
them and fending for himself when his survival is directly threatened.
Many reading this are probably wondering most about the content and the R rating. It's a tough call to say whether or not
the rating was completely warranted or not. If anything, the film has the look and feel of an R-rated thriller but perhaps
in an edited-for-content form (some of which I've actually seen thanks to DVD editing services like Clean Films or ClearPlay).
At the same time, House is still light enough on content to feel like a hard PG-13 (a la The Dark Knight. But there
have been much worse PG-13 psychological thrillers like The Secret Window or The Ring).
House carries an intensity almost all the way through that a film like Dark Knight does not (believe it or not, Nolan gave us a few
more chances to come up for air in that film than Henson does here). And there's a very dark supernatural overtone
once the mayhem inside the house begins that is explicitly of a Satanic nature as we discover that the owners of the house
worship Satan and have an elaborate shrine in their basement (hence the unsettling movie poster that I wish they had
an alternative for). Instead of a slow build of creepy bumps in the night and mysterious supernatural ghostliness like in
Jan De Bont's similarly shoddily executed The Haunting, House works hard through a musical score of forced
dread from B-movie composer David E. Russo to sustain its intensity. The trailer is a little bit deceiving, however, about the kinds of
horror or violence you might see in House, as there really is very little bloodshed or even gruesome off-screen
violence. There's nothing shown in House that most moviegoers haven't seen in a number of PG-13 movies before,
it's just the tone of the film that is significantly different.
As far as content goes, there are a couple times when characters
are shot off screen or an instance where a man beats another man with a candlestick holder off screen,
or a woman swings an axe at the house guests while inside a meat locker. Seldom is even the implied violence actually all that brutal
(compared to most PG-13 rated violence, that is).
Of the visible violence, we see a black gash on a person's face that oozes a sort of black mist, with a similar cut on a character's hand later on
doing the same thing. We then see a character take a knife to his hand and slice it (not seen up close, but still briefly shown),
and we see the resultant blood. In a flashback, a person is shot in the shoulder and we briefly see some blood, and later in the film, a person
is stabbed and we see a brief, small amount of on the victim. Language is limited to two uses of "h*ll," while
sexual content is limited to some cleavage shown by Leslie in a dress, as well as the revelation that a character was abused by her
uncle during her childhood (as well as some comments made about her apparently using her attractiveness as temptation
for men or to sleep around). Ultimately, the approach to content is handled sensitively, as with most Christian-made
films, but presented in much more of a supernatural, somewhat disturbing horror packaging.
When all is said and done, House is more of a disappointment than anything. I went in expecting a lot
from such a collaboration as Dekker and Perretti. House may have its moments, but the
movie just doesn't seem to offer the message the film makers are hoping it conveys, therefore it does not create the impact
intended (and apparently the more blatant spiritual message of the book is omitted here). A splash of a scripture from the
book of John at the start of the movie is really the only direct mention of anything Christian related
throughout the whole flick and really the only thing that sets this apart from being anything but a dark supernatural
thriller. And what I can only assume is an attempt at a metaphorical representation of a savior figure as part of the
plot development just seems more random or like an afterthought than anything natural or even sensical. Too many questions
go unanswered, too much of it feels like separate ideas without enough that pulls it all together at any given point.
In the end, House feels more like an unfinished idea than
a cohesive one. It's unfortunate, too, because it could have - and should have - been a lot better. Sadly, the dark supernatural
intensity and violence of House, coupled with subpar storytelling and terrible dialog, make this a film not really worth the price of admission
or your valuable time.
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 10/31/08)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
Leslie shows cleavage in her dress; Stewart asks if Pete is going to "violate" Leslie in one of their rooms, he
then comments that Leslie looks "took"; We find that a girl was molested by her uncle as a little girl. A man
then calls her temptation and comments that she sleeps around with men;
Stewart has a scar on his cheek under his eye; We see raw bloody meeat in a meat locker; We see a ghostly girl
with a white face and red bags under her eyes; In a flashback, a boy shoots his father and we see a little blood on
his shoulder briefly; A woman with a cut on her face briefly bleeds a dark black blood that hazes from her face (more
creepy than gory); A man with a cut on his hand bleeds black blood with black smoke; Jack has a bloody cut on his
forehead; To prove he's real, Jack takes a knife to his hand and cuts it (shown briefly) and we see the bloody
cut on his hand; A man is stabbed and we see a little bit of blood around the knife; A character is burnt to a crisp
and we see a non-detailed blackened shape of a person in a crater in the wall (not gory, and looks very computer-generated);
A man has some blood on his chest through a torn shirt. A woman has a tiny bit of blood on her nose.
A man shoots a woman with a shotgun (not shown); A man tries forcing entry through the front door/gate; A gunshot
fires through a skylight; A man holds another at gunpoint and knocks him to the floor; A scuffle in a meat locker
has a woman punched n the face, and a character shoves what looks like a large hook into the back of the neck of another
character (not shown graphically). One character swings an axe at another and hits hanging meat. Two characters are locked
inside and then try breaking through the door with an axe; A person is locked in a room that starts filling up with
water and then freezes and then it breaks and they fall into water; We see a fragmented flashback of a girl drowning;
In a flashback, a father slaps his boy's face and calls him names. The boy then shoots his father; A man grabs another
and they struggle and then hits him with a candlestick holder. He falls onto a bed and then behind it where he's struck repeatedly
with the candlestick holder; A woman comes at Jack with an axe, but he hits her away; A man shoots another man;
A second Jack materializes and some black mist and blood oozes from his hand. Jack then cuts his hand and reveals blood on
his hand to prove he's the real one; A cop and Tin Man exchange fire; Tin Man slams knife after knife into a table in front
of the people of the house; A gun goes off and shoots a man but doesn't hurt him; A person stabs another, who then shoots them
before they die; A man shoots a young girl
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most
reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content
really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.