US 2013, 110m, Cloud Cover Films
DVD: Signature Entertainment (UK), Cert 15
A classical music critic and his wife (played by Randy Schulman and Diane Dalton) take a holiday in Italy, possibly in an attempt to heal the wounds left by a personal tragedy. In the meantime, they leave their home in the hands of housesitter Kelly (Lindsey Haun), whose boyfriend Jesse (Blake Berris) and brother Tim (RJ Mitte) soon join her. As the European vacation hits a downward spiral, strange things are happening back at the house, especially after Jesse encounters a young boy at the local shopping mall, and brings him home...
First things first - the artwork and the title change for the UK market feel slightly misleading, although I can understand it if Signature, the distributor of such titles as Osombie and Ghost Shark were unsure of how to sell this particular item. It's far from your typical horror flick, an almost existentialist piece in fact. If you're after a dice-and-slice or more tangible chills, you really should avoid this one like the plague. However, if you fancy immersing yourself in something decidedly more abstract (dare I say, artful?), you may find this a refreshing change.
RJ Mitte (Breaking Bad) gets top billing on the cover, but the main focus is arguably True Blood's Lindsey Haun, giving an impressive lead turn as the house sitter who has more of a connection with the place than we are first led to believe. As changes come in both Kelly and Jesse's entire personalities (and Tim struggles to comprehend them), it's difficult to decide whether they are experiencing their own redemption, the righting of another wrong or something else entirely. It's this very ambiguity which is making me want to give the film a second look and explore all its nooks and crannies, of which there are many.
The parallel tale of the increasingly estranged couple abroad provides a compelling counterpoint to the events back home. Diane Dalton depicts quite unnervingly the sense of a woman in emotional meltdown.
Then there's striking use of colour, particularly yellows and reds. The former manifests particularly in the regular appearance of balloons around the house and some deftly placed Deutsche Grammophon CD's and records (a great visual reference for music collectors), whilst the latter is especially noticable in some unfeasibly lush apples which grow in the garden. It's all beautifully shot by Ken Kelsch.
House Of Last Things (to give it its proper title) is a real love-it-or-hate-it affair, the kind of film where your reaction will depend in large part on what you bring to the table. Try to imagine a restrained Brian De Palma making an adaptation of Alan Garner's The Owl Service, perhaps with a dash of Don't Look Now, an edge of surrealism and a storming classical soundtrack. That might give you a very rough idea of what to expect, but even then it doesn't come near to describing this movie. Sure, it isn't perfect, it's possibly a tad overlong, but it's never anything less than intriguing. Don't be surprised to see this on my end-of-year list of favourites.
Besides, any film which makes such excellent use of Beethoven's 7th Symphony is fine by me. Any chance of a Blu-Ray version?
(N.B. Director Michael Bartlett is apparently a former member of both the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Berlin Philharmonic, and worked under both Vladimir Ashkenazy and Herbert Von Karajan. That certainly figures.)