Studio: Phase 4 Films
Director: Eric Hurt
Writer: Eric Hurt
Producer: Erica Arvold, Pat Cassidy
Stars: Marc Singer, Hayley DuMond, Paul McGill, Victoria Vance, Rebekah Kennedy, Janey Gioiosa, Art LaFleur
Two families attend an open house at a secluded home only to discover that their secrets mysteriously prevent anyone from setting foot off the property.
An open house becomes a waking nightmare for two families and a mute girl when they find themselves unable to leave a mysterious secluded property. These seven people eventually discover that they are inexplicably intertwined by personal secrets that tether them to the house as well as to each other.
The base idea is not unique. Strangers or familiars find themselves in another plane of existence, prevented from escaping until they confront the untold truths and personal demons that falsify their relationships and bind them to one another. But the people trapped in “House Hunting” are real. Without spoiling other films that use a similar premise by naming names, no one turns out to be a ghost or a manifestation from a fractured psyche. It is the gradual revelation of what ties their common bonds and how the connection can be broken that makes “House Hunting” an engaging thriller.
On paper, characterizations teeter dangerously close to the pit of overbaked stereotypes, but they are pulled from the brink with fleshed out performances from faces familiar and unfamiliar. Art LaFleur is a chain-smoking man’s man with a predilection for overbearing behavior. Yet LaFleur has an amiable undertone that injects a surprising amount of likability into an otherwise predictable personality. Ditto for Marc Singer as a devoted father moving on after his first wife’s death. As their respective wives, one sheepish and one more confident, Victoria Vance and Hayley DuMond have expressive ranges that deliver a fair amount of subtext to their characters. These stylings mesh well in an ensemble where the audience is meant to keep guessing at true motives and intentions.
The script, however, has moments of forehead slapping incredulity by introducing inconsistent traits, making characters sometimes crafty and then painfully dense. First is the matter of the group’s peculiar predicament of being unable to leave the premises. When it becomes clear that the road that should lead to the street just keeps bringing them back to the house, they continue to try it anyway. For several hours. 23 times. One might think they would accept the unexplainable circumstance after experiencing the loop just a handful of times. Maybe even a dozen tries. Or 22. But 23 times?
Alternatively, once they do accept the situation for what it is, they really, really accept it. The plot is sped up with the aid of a “One Month Later” graphic, and everyone is remarkably well adjusted considering the ongoing circumstances. Seven cans of stew mysteriously appear in the pantry each day. The seven “prisoners” are shown changing bed linens, shaving, washing clothes in the sink, and piecing together a jigsaw puzzle. Everything except exploring new ways to escape.
There are also threads that are either fumbled red herring attempts, or subplots without a resolution. One of the mothers has continued visions of embracing her long deceased daughter. Only one other character witnesses the bizarre behavior, but nothing comes from that unique insight. There is also a strange scene where the stepmother sees the other family’s teenage son spying on her while undressing. She purposefully gives him a smile and willfully drops her bra. For what reason, this is never explained.
The two families find new clues on a regular enough basis and it is not clear if they are just now getting around to exploring that particular closet after a month of captivity. One could imagine explanations on behalf of the film. Like the cans of stew, perhaps the house is only making these things appear now and they have not been there for several weeks. However, it is preferable if the movie answered these questions itself, rather than give inquisitive minds more reasons to collapse under the weight of disbelief.
And that is the greatest drawback of “House Hunting.” Some of the stretches to accept the circumstances and the behavior are big asks of the audience. Those who like to stick their fingers in plot holes and pull things apart may only find entertainment by doing the same thing here. Yet first time feature director Eric Hurt was either blessed with an able cast or he has the ability to paint over his film’s negatives with the outweighing positives. (Probably a bit of both.) There are leaks in the dam, but solid acting and an interesting premise carry the suspense through to the end. And although the foundation may be familiar, where the story goes is not quite as predictable.
Review Score: 70