The Moose Head Over the Mantel
The 100-year history of a troubled American family.
Shannon K. Hall
But there was a striking similarity between my reaction to both films and my husband’s very opposite reaction to both films.
My husband adored A Ghost Story. I, on the other hand, truly, truly hated it. I mean, the 10-minute “pie-eating” sequence alone nearly destroyed me… and not in a good way.
And that brings us to The Moose Head Over the Mantel. Same reactions from us both, on the same side of the opinion coin.
No… I did not like this film at all.
An old home, in an unspecified American state – has seen many generations of one family pass through its doors. And in the main space of this unassuming abode, there are several animal head trophies spread across the walls. Of note, is a massive male moose head (yes, over the mantel). And through its eyes (as well as the other trophy heads), we get an idea of the extended history surrounding this particular family… and this history is certainly dark.
Honestly, it is a fascinating and unique concept, with six eras represented and each one being helmed by a different director. Within the confines of this head-POV, there didn’t appear to be any difference in directing style (same DP for all of the sections). I think this concept could have gone even farther had the directors been given carte blanche to go wild within these established parameters. But frankly, the film felt like it was directed by the same person – handling each of the different eras. There was great possibility within this overall conceit, but it was wasted.
Within twenty minutes of understanding how the film would play out (the style, the “moose” security cam, as it were), the gimmick (and it is a gimmick) absolutely wore out its welcome.
I also found it cliché that the film – as it explored the various generations – tackled every single “taboo” story idea. Lesbianism, hinted-at cannibalism, mob violence, incest, the Oedipus Complex and serial killers-in-the-making.
None of this was particularly effective, however. The film didn’t go far enough on any of those fronts. None of it was shocking or frankly, original. It seemed as if the writers sat down and made a list of the most eccentric and dark human behavior and then failed to edit it down for the film itself.
One of my big problems was the lack of close-ups for the actors. The “security-cam” style never allows us to see any of these people up close (other than late in the film, when a new, similar gimmick was introduced) and therefore, no connections to the characters were ever properly consummated.
In the name of shooting the film in an original way, the filmmakers fail to engage an audience.
On that same note, there is no real central character (there could be an argument that the 1983 family is that – but they don’t get enough screen-time for me to truly care) and therefore no one to follow or with whom we can sympathize. The ensemble is massive and at times confusing. Again, with so few close-ups, and in certain eras so many characters – it’s honestly tough to keep track.
Other than a few notable moments of scenery-chewing (in the 1800 era sections), the performances were all just fine. But no one actor is really given that much time to completely develop and emote within their character. So there are no real standouts here – either amazingly good or dreadfully bad.
On the technical side of things, I can offer true kudos for set design and the costume work. Changing the setting of this one living room (some-time dining room, depending on the generation) was I’m sure, a mountainous task. And I never had a problem getting a feel for each particular era. Period details of furniture and dresses and the like – were all solid.
I will also give it up for the editing. It was all pretty seamless – not only going from animal head to animal head, but from year to year. I’m sure there was A LOT of footage to sift through, and what they came up with is quite impressive.
While there are physical fights and a bit more action in The Moose Head Over the Mantel – to keep your interest (when compared to the very slow-moving A Ghost Story), both films fail to engage with a similar concept. Seeing how a home and its inhabitants change over decades – through either the dead eyes of a mounted moose head, or the dead eyes of an unsettled ghost – may be cool on paper, but carried out – isn’t interesting.
Both of these just scream “gimmick” to me and in both cases, my immediate post-screening verdict?
Each film would have made a tremendously interesting short film.
But this admittedly unique style of story-telling, cannot sustain a feature length film.
Look… there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to story-telling and filmmaking. In the case of The Moose Head Over the Mantel, the filmmakers tried something new, and I give them all the credit in the world for doing so. But for this reviewer, this particular gamble didn’t pay off.
With marvelous work from the artisans on the production (costumes, set design), overall decent performances, but a very unengaging story paired with the quickly tiresome moose POV – I simply can’t recommend The Moose Head Over the Mantel.
The film is nominated for several awards at this year’s FilmQuest. It’s up for Best Feature Film, Best Feature Screenplay – Jesse Gotta, Best Ensemble Cast in a Feature, Best Cinematography in a Feature – Dominick Sivilli, Best Editing in a Feature, Best Sound in a Feature, Best Production Design in a Feature and Best Costumes in a Feature.
This was the film’s Utah Premiere, and it is still playing on the festival circuit. No wider release information is yet available.