Studio: IFC Midnight
Director: Alastair Orr
Writer: Jonathan Jordaan, Alastair Orr, Kate Blackman
Producer: Zino Ventura, Mirell Lerm Ventura, Alastair Orr
Stars: Sharni Vinson, Carlyn Burchell, Steven Ward, Zino Ventura, Gustav Gerdener
Four kidnappers discover the young woman they are holding for ransom is possessed by a dangerous demon.
Horror movie home invaders have had a hard go of it lately. The “Crush the Skull” (review here) crooks ended up unwittingly trapping themselves inside a serial killer’s lair. The robbers from “Intruders” (review here) weren’t expecting an agoraphobic woman to turn the tables in surprising fashion. And we all know what happened to the thieving trio that took on Stephen Lang in “Don’t Breathe” (review here).
The kidnapping quartet of “House on Willow Street,” which may have “From a” in front of its title depending on where and when you see the film, is another criminal crew booking passage on that blunder boat. Moments after taking the hood off their hostage Katherine (Carlyn Burchell, a dead ringer for Hannah Fierman of “V/H/S” (review here) and “Siren”) and spotting some strangely bloodshot eyes, Hazel (Sharni Vinson) wonders if she and her accomplices inadvertently rescued the diamond dealer’s daughter from something far worse than the captivity they had planned.
Indeed they did. Hazel’s heist team unknowingly ripped Katherine out of her home right after an exorcism gone awry. Now none of them are going to receive a ransom because there isn’t anyone alive to pay it. What’s worse is that the intruders didn’t just kidnap Katherine. They kidnapped her demon too, and this unholy hellspawn has the ability to bring their worst fears to life as horribly haunting visions.
“Average is as average does,” Forrest Gump might say to succinctly sum up “House on Willow Street.” That’s a lame attempt at color, not to mention dated. Frankly, the unremarkable nature of “House on Willow Street” doesn’t inspire my creativity to fire on all cylinders, which is also the case for its screenwriters.
Operating from a straightforward premise, the script doesn’t have a hard hold on the concept of visual storytelling. Dialogue repeatedly serves as obvious exposition, such as when one man screams, “I moved your body to make it look like you were driving, so what?” to a silent ghost he feels guilty for killing. Other words are written to describe activity in plain sight, such as when Hazel shouts, “it’s her, she’s doing this,” while everyone is already busy watching ‘her’ doing ‘this.’
For a film unashamed to have a character cry, “C’mon!” at something not moving fast enough, or to have someone reply, “maybe you should be” to a claim that “no one is afraid of the dark,” it’s a mystery why some scenes are structured to be more cumbersome than required. “From a House on Willow Street,” the more accurate of the two titles since a majority of minutes take place away from the titular home, starts with a stakeout and some hemming and hawing over whether to do the kidnapping caper we know will be done anyway. Why not simply insert a throwaway line like, “we spent a month and a half planning this” as the plot is put into motion instead of bothering with a pointless prologue and a “Six Weeks Later” intertitle card?
Hazel’s secret connection to the house and the other thieves’ visions of dead family members don’t add up to substantial subplots. A mind idling, which “House on Willow Street” grants plenty of permission to do, might wonder what this demon would do if the transgressors didn’t have traumatic pasts to be taunted with. In the meanwhile, the movie fiddles around with standard spooks of flickering bulbs, audio stings, and tiptoeing down dark corridors lit by slowly sweeping flashlights.
“House on Willow Street” might be alright for ‘once in a while’ thriller fans who don’t indulge often in fright flicks that in turn indulge in mid-movie exposition dumps (thank goodness for Katherine’s convenient video diary) and more jump scares than Teddy Roosevelt could shake a big stick at, for wont of a better analogy. The movie certainly looks sharp at least, with moody cinematography and snappy editing elevating atmosphere that an underachieving story has a harder time kicking up.
Set expectations for mediocrity and “House on Willow Street” will meet them with a practical presentation for textbook terror. You’re less likely to mind an evaporation of 90 minutes if such disposable horror entertainment is no big taxation on your time. Though if you pause the movie in the middle to take a phone call or grab a bite, it’s 50/50 if you’ll remember to return for the remainder later on.
Review Score: 50