The House on Pine Street full movie review - Eschews the gore but not the bore
If it's gonna be dumb at least make it fun. That's surely the unwritten rule of horror.
But this bland and generic haunted house indie makes the fatal error of trying to keep a straight face throughout, however predictable the events and however skin-crawling the dialogue. It's restrained in its deployment of violence ? but also, sadly, in terms of enjoyment.
Jennifer (Emily Goss) and Luke (Taylor Bottles) move into a big crumbling house in a sleepy Kansas suburb. She's seven months pregnant and reluctant. He urges her to give the place a go. They're soon visited by Jennifer's overbearing mother, Meredith (Cathy Barnett), whose presence seems to trigger memories in Jennifer of a previous breakdown. So when the house starts taunting 'n' haunting, the assumption is that Jennifer is simply on the turn again. Most of the horror (and accompanying tedium) emerges from the fear of not being believed, and the threat to mother and child.
It's a familiar setup: giving a chance to an instantly creepy house; one partner who's nervous and one who's patient; the forbidden room; the secret past; the strange staring neighbours. I was surprised when no one finds a box of old video tapes and newspaper cuttings. The 'Better Movie Checklist' looms large: The Omen (creepy child); Poltergeist (tossed furniture and a visiting psychic); The Shining (ambiguous twins); The Haunting (a chilling case of mistaken identity).
But more than anything there's the presence of Rosemary's Baby: motherhood anxiety seeps into the very fabric of the film; particularly its best scenes, between Jennifer and her scheming, possessive mother. There's a moment when Jennifer goes to her mum's house for solace, and they seem to slip back into roles that have existed since Jennifer's childhood. There's enough eerie tension here to suggest the story may be turning towards an intriguing third act. But that junction is promptly passed by.
The overarching problem is, the cinematic influences are great but where's the USP? The drama is rote, the plot is plodding, and the scares are imaginative only on a micro level: mouse traps triggered by an unknown force, or boxes inexplicably moving of their own accord. Like many a horror movie without an identity, it starts well enough, with some intriguing, subtle spookings. But alas, it becomes quickly clear, through formulaic plot beats and zombified dialogue ("There's no such thing as ghosts"), that this is a movie lacking a unique personality.
Speaking of which, Goss and Bottles put in a pair of performances which are adequate at best. Having far more fun are Barnett as the mother and Jim Korinke as the possibly-psychic Walter. The latter gets the best piece of bad dialogue: a WTF climactic speech about the forces of energy (or something) which is presumably meant to tie everything up, but which is so rambling and bizarre that you have to wonder if the actor himself knew what he was on about.
The photography has a pallid appearance, all autumn hues and naturalistic lighting, which only serves to highlight the unconvincing characters and jars with the laughable events. When Jennifer is being tossed around by the poltergeist, a different score would have made it comedy gold. But instead we get by-the-numbers ambient doom music connoting something much more horrifying than what we're actually seeing.
Remarkably, at the end I was left unsure as to whether a key character was meant to have died. The reactions of the other characters just seemed incongruent. I'm not sure if this was unforgivably poor writing and editing or whether I'd simply stopped caring by then. Either way it does nothing to endorse this very uninteresting and uninspired film.