A young genius accidentally invents a device that amplifies the paranormal activity within his family's house, possibly bringing back the spirits of loved ones, and unleashing things far worse.
Matt Osterman (based on his film "Ghost from the Machine")
Anthony Scott Burns
Percy Hines White
Robert B. Kennedy
Let me explain. If I am not distracted by a bad performance, sub-par lighting or an overbearing score (just as general examples) – if I’m sucked into the story, the characters and the world of the film, regardless of any potential shortcomings – then it’s safe to say that this is where the magic is on full display.
Our House is a brand new – what I’d term a “supernatural thriller” – which finds that magic spot of “the great majority of this film worked”.
It’s also a prime example of how important performance, character work and story are to the success of a film. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (I’m a screenwriter, so I always try to drive this home) – it has to start on the page.
And in the case of Our House – clearly it did.
College student Ethan (Thomas Mann) is a budding inventor. His latest invention is a device which will hopefully (once all of the kinks are worked out) create wireless electricity, thus taking away the need to “plug in” machines. They’ll simply take their electricity from the air and the ether. When his parents tragically die, he must move back home to care for his two younger siblings, Matt and Becca (Percy Hines White and Kate Moyer; respectively). Now in a fatherly role, Ethan has left behind his research for a retail 9 to 5 gig, but that urge to tinker on his machine, soon returns. So he starts up his experiments anew, and immediately – inexplicable and frightening things begin to occur in the house. The question is: does Ethan’s machine do what it was intended to do? Or is it opening some sort of portal to another dimension?
The ghost effects are highly effective. While the film isn’t what I’d term as an old fashioned, terror-ific “spook show”, the relatively few appearances of these entities are genuinely chilling. It’s clearly a combination of actors in costume, mixed with some seamless after-effects. However it was that the filmmakers achieved the look, they hit it out of the park.
Despite those creepy figures and the few “boo” moments they elicit, at the heart of this film is the believable, tight and heartwarming relationship of these three siblings.
And perfectly matching the authenticity of these characters and their relationships, are the performances from the three actors.
As the now head-of-household Ethan, Mann draws automatic sympathy in his awkward and life-changing new gig as “dad”. Mann deftly juggles the resentment, guilt and sadness in this new life chapter – and through each emotion, Mann brings a genuine quality of a dude in a messed-up situation. You really just want him to succeed – at his work, as well as at raising his siblings.
As middle child Matt, Percy Hines White (whom I saw in the sci-fi horror feature Rupture a couple of years back) gave my favorite performance. There’s so much early teen angst (as to be expected), but Hines White never makes this kid annoying or idiotic. Matt really truly feels the pain of this loss, but he never lets his grief keep him from doing his brotherly duties, specifically when it comes to young Becca. There’s a special relationship between all of the sibs, but the Becca/Matt bond is perfectly realized by these two young actors.
And as Becca, Kate Moyer will steal your heart. Becca’s innocence is enchanting, and for such a young actor, Moyer properly hits every single note in order to bring the character to life. I fell in love with both the character and the actor.
It’s easy to say that I’d welcome additional stories about this struggling and broken family – because the characters are so rich and the performances so solid. Dysfunction or not – this is a fascinating household and a good place to be a fly on the wall.
The film owes a debt of gratitude to the ultimate suburban haunted house flick (Hooper’s Poltergeist), but then again – what ghost movie after 1982 doesn’t? It’s a seminal film, so one can forgive its continued presence in paranormal films of the past 30+ years.
The thing is, Our House never overdoes the call-outs to Poltergeist. This film is its own beast – and a lovely beast at that.
The film is rife with awesome details. There’s the movie poster of Cronenberg’s The Fly on Ethan’s dormitory wall (a nice touch to throw in the “science gone wrong” theme). The throwaway conversation between Ethan and Tom about a Delorean and gigawatts is an absolute hoot. And my avid readers of 4 know how tough it is for me to accept “movie quotes/knowledge” in any screenplay. It’s gotta be done right, and it is here. And the more subtle physical “sibling” exchanges between the kids are spot-on – namely a silent moment between Matt and Becca in the backseat of the family mini-van.
There is the unanswered question about whether or not Ethan’s machine was somehow responsible for the deaths of his parents. It’s hinted at, but never completely confirmed. And for once, I prefer this ambiguity. For those who have seen the film, what say you?
The film slightly fluttered in my enjoyment when we got some hints as to who or what might be in the titular house. It started to feel a bit cookie-cutter in its explanation, but the strength of the characters and the writing helped me breeze past this shortcoming… but it’s a shortcoming nonetheless: an explanation which we’ve seen in countless other films of this ilk. Par for the course, or a lazy, unoriginal payoff?
Frankly, with the high quality of the rest of the film, I expected more.
Our House – forgive me – “is a very, very, very fine house” (to borrow that lyric from the Crosby, Stills & Nash song). It’s a classy film, filled to the rim with exceptional performances, well-drawn and sympathetic characters and an overall experience which focuses on those most important of things. While the visual effects are quite good – the film is never flashy. It’s simply authentic and simply good.
Our House is based on the 2010 film Ghost from the Machine.
It’s is now available on several VOD outlets. A do not miss, and certainly a front-runner for a spot on my end of the year “Best of Horror” list.