Horror films are at their best when they touch on sensitive nerves. Jaws isn’t scary because it’s about a big man-eating shark, it’s scary because it plays on our fears of not knowing what’s lurking beneath us in the water. Haunted house films are frightening because they strip away at the security we believe exists in our own homes – they leave us feeling exposed in the fine place we should be most safe.
The latest release from IFC Midnight and Elevation Pictures, Our House, is a haunted house film that not only plays on our fears of security, but also our fear of loss and grief. Our House is a joint Canadian-German production that hit most streaming platforms on July 27.
Ethan (Thomas Mann) is a bright graduate student riding a big scholarship into MIT. Along with his girlfriend, Hannah (Nicola Peltz), Ethan spends most of his time working on what he hopes will be the next big discovery – wireless electricity. Unfortunately, Ethan’s work is driving a wedge between him and his family as he spends much of his time consumed with his project.
After his parents die in a tragic accident, Ethan leaves school to take care of his younger siblings, Matthew and Becca. He continues to stitch together his invention, piece by piece, in the family garage. Although his test runs look like a failure, Ethan slowly discovers that his invention may open doors to another dimension when his siblings reveal they have seen and talked to their dead parents. Is Ethan’s invention allowing his family to communicate with their lost parents or has he opened a door to something more sinister?
Haunted by an Air of Familiarity
At the start of this review, I’ll be very clear that I don’t think Our House is a bad movie. Nothing about Our House is incompetent or even poorly done. Director Anthony Scott Burns has assembled a very workmanlike film that, at times, looks quite good. Some of the imagery captured on screen is actually quite stunning. Nevertheless, Our House never rises above any of the haunted house film conventions most viewers have seen in a countless number of films. There is a distinct air of familiarity that hangs over the proceedings.
Too many scenes will remind viewers of much better haunted house films. In fact, while watching Our House, I caught myself mentally checking off past films that felt eerily similar to what was on the screen. The hidden room in the basement – Ouija: Origin Of Evil did it better. Even the film’s basic concept of technology opening doors to supernatural realms has been done the past, and done much better. If you’re too young to remember The Legend of Hell House then maybe you’ve seen White Noise with Michael Keaton. The J-horror films of the 2000’s, most notably Pulse, had something to say about technology. Our House doesn’t seem to have much to say outside of spinning a haunted house yarn.
The J-horror films of the 2000’s, most notably Pulse, had something to say about technology. Our House doesn’t seem to have much to say outside of spinning a haunted house yarn.
I have no interest right now in delving into the debate about whether horror films need to be R-rated. For the sake of brevity, there’s no reason why a horror film needs R-rated graphic violence to be truly scary. Setting that issue aside, Our House is horror-lite in terms of scares and suspense. Much of the first 30 minutes or so of the movie is devoted to its characters, which certainly helps build an emotional core for the audience. But the pacing is is a little sluggish, particularly given that the climax never delivers a substantial payoff.
…nothing in Our House even comes close to reaching the heights of fear achieved by recent haunted house films including The Conjuring, Insidious, or Ouija: Origin of Evil.
Once the supernatural elements enter the story, Our House also fails to ratchet up any sort of tension. There are a couple of scenes that may prompt some white-knuckling from younger horror fans, but most seasoned horror veterans will be seriously underwhelmed. To be honest, nothing in Our House even comes close to reaching the heights of fear achieved by recent haunted house films including The Conjuring, Insidious, or Ouija: Origin of Evil. I wouldn’t call Our House boring, but it’s certainly fair to refer to it like a kind of ‘ Diet Horror’ or ‘Horror-Lite’.
Strong Performances Can’t Elevate Our House
Everything else about Our House is competent at worst. This is not a low-budget amateurish horror film. The film looks good, it has some nice but unoriginal visuals, and the sound quality is excellent. In addition, the performances from the cast are universally quite strong. Thomas Mann turns in a genuinely earnest performance as Ethan. The film’s screenplay does fail him; for a genius, Thomas doesn’t seem to know much about his own invention.
Both Percy Haynes White and Kate Moyer, playing Ethan’s younger siblings, are excellent. If Our House has a strong suit, it’s the very believable interpersonal dynamics of the on-screen siblings. It’s this relationship that will keep most viewers strapped in for the entirety of the movie. Nicola Peltz (Bates Motel), who plays Ethan’s girlfriend, has top billing in Our House, but that’s misleading. Peltz has little screen time and is give little to do with her role.
Our House is Competent, But Largely Forgettable Effort
Our House isn’t a terrible film, but there’s not much to recommend here. Over the last several years, we’ve seen a lot of good supernatural-themed and/or haunted house films released. Absolutely nothing in Our House comes close to hitting the same notes as these films. Perhaps the best description of Our House is that it’s a bland, offensive, and unforgettable effort. You’re not likely to hate it or turn it off in disgust, but you’ll probably never watch it again.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: C