A troubled young woman takes up residence in a gothic apartment building where she must confront a terrifying evil.
February 10th, 2017
Andrew C. Erin
Andrew C. Erin
Well, have I got a scoop for you! It’s a “Make by Numbers” horror film, and it’s called Havenhurst – and will be released tomorrow February 10th, 2017 in select theatres and on VOD outlets everywhere.
Havenhurst is the name of an old school high-rise in the heart of New York City (think the Bramford from Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby). It’s basically been turned into a halfway house for recovering addicts (alcoholics, sexual offenders, prostitutes and junkies) by a woman named Eleanor (The Others’ Fionnula Flanagan). The latest addition to the building’s residents is recovering alcoholic Jackie (Dexter’s Julie Benz). Once she moves in, she realizes that she’s now inhabiting the former apartment of her missing best friend Danielle (horror icon Danielle Harris). Jackie befriends a young girl named Sarah (Belle Shouse) and together they work to unravel the mystery of this gigantic and shape-shifting complex.
Other than that shape-shifting building, there is nothing unique about Havenhurst. That “Paint by Numbers” holds up in pretty much every aspect of the film’s production.
As I’ve so often done before, I’ll again quote Kevin Tenney’s classic Witchboard. There’s the obligatory “Nancy Drew bit” as Jackie discovers the clues (naturally newspaper clippings). There’s the attempt at a sympathetic and difficult past for Jackie to overcome. There was such an overuse of “a figure flashes by in the far background or the immediate foreground” that you could easily create a drinking game out of this tired cliché. Half an hour in, you’re soused.
Now, let’s rap about performance for a sec.
I’ve not seen much of Julie Benz’s work outside of Dexter, so I can’t really make a determination as to whether this horribly lackluster performance in Havenhurst was her doing, or just the writing/directing combo courtesy of Andrew C. Erin (and co-writer Daniel Farrands). In Dexter, Benz was sweet, innocent and almost ethereal as Dexter’s ill-fated wife Rita. But she brings absolutely nothing to Jackie. I never felt one moment of urgency from her, nor did I give two cents about her well-being. Line deliveries were flat, and I couldn’t help but make note of a moment in the climax, where Jackie and Sarah are stuck on an elevator, going to a floor with imminent danger. With no emotion or fright, she softly pushed the button while squeaking out several “No’s”. This is the climax and Jackie is in danger? Where in the heck was the desperation for such a moment – and why should I even care?
Other performances were okay – but there was never that aforementioned sense of pressure and inevitable danger from any one. And even our beloved Danielle Harris (in her three minute prologue scene) has certainly done better work.
As for Fionnula Flanagan, we know she’s brilliant (just look at The Others or last year’s fantastic Trash Fire – see my review here), but even she can’t rise above the subpar material and uninspired direction. When the actors are given dialogue like, “You’re weak” and the reply line, “You’re sick”, what can we expect from even the best of thespians?
There were some other odd choices made in Havenhurst. One of the killers/monsters in the building is basically a hot-bodied albino dude with Borg accessories (Douglas Tait). It’s sort of revealed who he is and perhaps why he’s completely white – but it’s never explained why he seems to be a supernatural man-beast with other-worldly strength.
Another weird thing: There’s a shot of a waitress where Jackie works. Jackie has asked for assistance from her buddy Tim (Josh Stamberg) who also happens to be a cop. As he leaves the diner after offering Jackie some information, there’s a brief shot of Jackie’s co-waitress watching him go. In my mind, we were about to see an exchange between co-waitress and Jackie, but it never happened. Which begs the question, why did we need the cutaway to the co-waitress? It’s broken record time again, but honestly — the devil is in the details, and odd editing choices with no payoff, are distracting and scream “mistake”.
There’s also the inexplicable choice of making Jackie and Danielle friends. Sure, we all love our besties, but the fervor which Jackie throws into finding Danielle – seems a bit forced. A quick change from friends into sisters, could easily have given some extra heft to the film’s proceedings. And would explain the choice of having Benz appear raven-haired as Jackie. At first glance, and since Danielle Harris appears first, I assumed that they were sisters, until the script informed me otherwise.
There are some nifty gore effects in the film, but they seem sort of out of place in the story as a whole (a bit torture-porn-y). The stunt work is also quite impressive. But the film isn’t at all scary, either in the way of “boo” moments or when examining the suspense factor.
I didn’t care for the score by tomandandy (The Monster, The Strangers, The Mothman Prophecies). With that lack of urgency in the performances carrying over into the total film, it felt like the score was trying to compensate for the absence of actual suspense and anticipation. Frankly, that didn’t add to the film, but distracted from it.
With a whole bunch of blah performances, a cookie-cutter approach in both story and execution, you’re better off spending your time making some truly effective art – how about one of those old “Paint by Number” projects?
Havenhurst comes to us from producer Mark Burg of such films as Saw and Saw II. And although I offer it a 1.5 star rating (not the kiss of death) it’ll feel right at home in the “avoid at all costs” category.