Studio: IFC Midnight
Director: Anthony Scott Burns
Writer: Nathan Parker
Producer: Lee Kim, Martin Katz, Karen Wookey, Ulf Israel
Stars: Thomas Mann, Percy Hynes White, Nicola Peltz, Kate Moyer, Robert B. Kennedy, Lucius Hoyos, Marcia Bennett, Allison Hossack, John Ralston
A college student’s experimental device inadvertently amplifies paranormal activity inside his grieving family’s home.
If he and his girlfriend Hannah can get it to work properly, Ethan’s experimental apparatus could be capable of generating wireless electricity. In the meantime, Ethan is about to discover his device inadvertently doubles as a Wi-Fi Ouija board capable of summoning supernatural spirits.
Ethan’s initial experiments are suspended when, after their parents die in a tragic truck accident, the inventive college kid finds himself summoned home to help younger brother Matt and little sister Becca adjust to life without mom and dad. DIY research moves from a university lab to the family garage as tinkering continues on the ticking and whirring machine.
Each time Ethan fires up the device, something seemingly paranormal takes place in the house. Smoky shapes spiral in shadows. Floors creak with invisible footsteps. Whenever the electrical charge amplifies, so does odd activity.
Matt and Becca are quick to conclude that their parents have a message from beyond the grave. Ethan isn’t so certain. Once events take a slightly sinister turn, the siblings realize the haunting in their home could tear their family apart further.
Never mind how the summary sounds. Should you be looking for a straight shot of haunted house horror chased with copious chills, you won’t find such juice in “Our House’s” bottle. Based on Matt Osterman’s under-the-radar 2010 feature “Ghost from the Machine,” director Anthony Scott Burns’ 2018 refresh can be classified more comfortably as a deliberately subdued thriller spun subtly out of family-focused melodrama.
Despite having grounded objectives as a genre film, “Our House” has its work cut out for it. Through no real fault of its own, the movie sees itself competing in the same stellar calendar year as “A Quiet Place” and “Hereditary.” Running on a quieter engine of pulled-out pacing and traditional ghost story trappings, “Our House” has a harder time besting buzzier opponents in the growing arena of grieving family spook shows.
Which isn’t to imply “Our House” doesn’t make marks of its own. They just don’t cleave as deep or burn lingering scars to be salved through deep conversations after end credits roll.
Introductions establish characters in a manner that can be described as patient by some or laborious by others. Fortunately, the film’s strongest suit involves an excellent array of natural performances from a predominantly young cast whose characterizations carry initial intrigue. Ethan, Matt, Becca, and the rest don’t have the most energized personalities, but Anthony Scott Burns calibrates everyone to a wavelength where organic interactions read as realistic.
Thomas Mann in particular puts impressive inflection on early dialogue to sound like a fully fleshed person instead of a delivery device for exposition. His mannerisms work effectively at endearing Ethan to the audience.
The movie’s weakest attribute involves its curious composition. “Clunky” isn’t an entirely fair word to use, although “Our House” doesn’t pull its components together tautly.
Among other elements, Ethan and Hannah have a third person helping with their project who disappears after the first experiment to be never mentioned again. Hannah largely vanishes too. Ethan holds a job at a hardware store that doesn’t do much to motivate story progression. Ethan does have a DWP employee neighbor who predictably comes in quite handy, even though he is weirdly established in two separate scenes, as if the second act means to remind that his first act bullet hasn’t yet fired. Essentially, Nathan Parker’s script could have benefitted from at least one more draft to tune up secondary character relevancy while trimming setups that are edited in at inopportune moments.
Choppy rhythm notwithstanding, “Our House” still comes down to hit or miss status due to dependence on formula. A child talking to an imaginary friend. A secret passage exposing a hidden room. A decades-old mystery involving a wronged, restless spirit. The film’s list of recyclable tropes is almost as long as its very gradual ascent into action.
No matter how well worn, it isn’t the tools that make a movie. It’s how that movie uses them. With this in mind, “Our House” mostly manufactures an above average effort out of its moody look into mourning children’s post-parent lives. Then again, it also hiccups on unresolved plot points, such as the vengeful ghost’s origin, on its path to crossing a mundane finish line. In choosing how to proceed, consider personal proclivities for slow burn drama as well as fright film familiarity.
Review Score: 55