Director: Tony Datis
Writer: Marc Jarousseau, Dominique Gauriaud, Bernardo Barilli, Jurij Prette
Producer: Sidonie Dumas
Stars: Nathalie Odzierejko, Marc Jarousseau, Ludovik Day, Yvick Letexier, Jerome Niel, Vincent Tirel, Vanessa Guide, Delphine Baril, Baptiste Lorber, Lila Lacombe
Ten friends end up targeted by a mysterious murderer when they celebrate New Year’s Eve inside a remote Gothic mansion.
College is coming to a close for ten French friends. Perky Nadine and her bespectacled boyfriend Fabrice have an idea to host a New Year’s Eve party cheekily themed to that way-back-when year of 1999. Everyone will be forced to socialize during the costumed celebration since there is no cellphone service and they are sequestered in a secluded Gothic mansion located somewhere just south of “Crimson Peak.”
Along for the ride on this remote romp are a promiscuous sexpot, her easily agitated ex, a dippy drug dealer, a bookish introvert, and several other selections ripped right from the prologue pages of “Slasher Cinema Stereotypes.” Of course, not everyone in the mansion is there for the dancing and drinking. Someone, or perhaps something, wants to turn each person into a corpse. Once these festivities of fear kick off with the discovery of a decapitated dog, revelers realize that shutting themselves off from the world means they’ve trapped themselves inside for terror.
On a technical level, “The Mansion” looks terrific. When dialogue dithers, snappy editing keeps things spry. Lighting, cinematography, and set design are stellar, crafting an environment that is eerie using camerawork that is creative. Strip out its intentional goofiness and “The Mansion” could go toe-to-toe with “The Woman in Black” or “The Boy” (review here) as far as haunted house visual chills are concerned.
Writing-wise, having ten main characters means “The Mansion” runs around in a large swamp of exposition. An opening credits kill notwithstanding, it’s a good twenty minutes before there is an overt hint of something strange happening in the house, and that’s only in the form of someone walking hallways alone while staring at ominous oil paintings. It’s ten minutes more before first blood is spilled, and the movie finally mixes in some silly scares with its sillier spoofs.
Holding out even longer is the film’s first laugh, for me anyway. I didn’t mark the exact moment, though my first chuckle, one of a scant few that can be counted on Bart Simpson’s hand, arrived somewhere around the midsection. Weirdly enough, it came courtesy of an irreverent Oscar Pistorius joke. That joke then became a running gag, and “The Mansion” exhausted goodwill by running that gag into the ground the same way “Saturday Night Live” used to do with recurring sketches that had run out of juice (Rob Schneider’s Richmeister, for example).
The bulk of the humor is built on standard situations such as the goody-goody girl eating a full batch of edibles and getting high. Not only is the black guy killed first, which isn’t a spoiler to say since “The Mansion” all but physically puts a blueprint for its plot in your lap, but he has a big dick, providing punchlines for jokes including his unusual manner of death. And whether they are teasing the twit who has never had sex or working visual cues out of their turn-of-the-21st-century costumes, every actor sells his/her state of horror or humor with mouths gaping wider than the Grand Canyon.
When I have a lukewarm reaction to a movie like “The Mansion,” I sometimes mention that humor is not my preferred frame for experiencing horror. I’m a hard sell when it comes to mixing gore with gags. That’s why when I do respond positively to a horror/comedy, I can be certain the movie did something right. At the other end exist jolt/joke hybrids so dumb or so dull, I don’t believe my personal proclivities play a part in delivering a downturned thumb.
Then comes something in the middle such as “The Mansion.” In cases like these, I can’t quite tell if my mumbled “meh” and shrugged shoulders have more to do with the movie or with me.
What makes sense here is inserting a second disclaimer concerning what kind of comedy the movie trades in most. This way you, intrepid reader, can better make up your mind about what suits your taste without my filter providing inaccurate influence. Because even though tired tropes about black victims dying first, archetypical characters including stoners and virgins, and limp jokes about erect penises haven’t tickled my funny bone since I was a teen who didn’t know better, maybe they still float someone’s boat.
NOTE: The film’s French title is “Le manoir.”
Review Score: 55