Written and directed by Patrick Meaney, House of Demons (2018) is an independent, low-budget horror film that was released for streaming on Feb. 6 of this year. Having heard nothing about this film previously I walked into it with literally no expectations. I found it scrolling through new releases on Apple Movies and, to be perfectly honest, the cover art caught my eye. The premise that promised demons and an evil cult was enough to convince me to rent the film for some late-night viewing.
Four estranged friends – Spencer, Gwen, Katrina, and Matthew – reunite for a weekend getaway at a country cabin years after a terrible car accident left another friend brain dead. Past tensions and guilt aren’t the only things waiting for the friends at the remote house. Years earlier, in 1969, a hippie cult committed brutal crimes in the same house that may have included bizarre experiments. Supernatural forces eventually draw the past and present together under one roof, forcing the friends to confront their own demons.
Credit to Meaney for trying to introduce something different to a familiar concept. Unfortunately, best intentions aside, House of Demons can’t escape being an absolute mess of a film. Perhaps its biggest flaw is the disjointed narrative and the jarring editing Meaney employs. House of Demons does not just flash back and forth between 1969 and present day, it also throws in character flashbacks, and in short order has the past and present begin to bleed into the same timeline. Non-linear narratives can certainly work and engage the audience but Meaney never allows a story to develop in any of these timelines, simply throwing them together with almost manic editing. Occasionally Meaney lingers on a scene but strangely it never seems to be the scene that would offer much to the overall story so the film alternates between hyper-cuts and bits that seem to drag. It doesn’t help that some of the flashbacks seem random or meaningless. There is a lot of surreal imagery in House of Demons, which isn’t a bad thing, but in conjunction with the incoherent storyline the images just further disorient the viewer. Carnival of Souls used surrealism to create a dreamlike atmosphere; even the bizarre Let’s Scare Jessica to Death used surreal images to replicate the feeling of a nightmare. In House of Demons, with the editing, the surreal images just make it feel like a music video.
Low production values are evident throughout the film, but other horror films have overcome these limitations. House of Demons just doesn’t have anything that helps distract from its low budget. The acting is the very definition of wooden and even Buffy-alum, Amber Benson can’t save herself, seemingly phoning in a lethargic performance. Dove Meir is utterly miscast as Frazer, the film’s Charles Manson-inspired cult leader. Aside from not looking the part, Meir never exhibits the charisma and superficial glib that audiences will expect from a cult leader and the performance is further hampered by dialogue that sounds like it was poorly paraphrased from Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter. There are lapses in character logic that are nearly as jarring as the film’s editing. One scene wherein timelines merge and Frazer waltzes into the house unannounced only to start a casual conversation with one of protagonists had me face-palming. It’s the kind of perplexing moment that you would expect to see watching Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. A lack of explicit gore and violence is certainly not a problem but in the absence of any suspense, tension, or scares it leaves little other reasons for audiences to keep watching.
There isn’t much to recommend about House of Demons and not even low expectations will temper most viewers’ responses. The lack of plural “demons” may also disappoint audiences although I’m sure the film hints that it’s the personal “demons” of its characters that are trapped in the titular house. It’s very possible that I missed some deeper meaning embedded in the film but I barely sat through a single viewing of House Demons and this is not a personal “demon” I have any intention of confronting a second time.