Release: Friday, February 27, 2015 (limited)
Written by: Aaron Keeling; Austin Keeling; Natalie Jones
Directed by: Aaron Keeling; Austin Keeling
This piece is my latest contribution to Mr. Rumsey’s Film Related Musings. As always James, thanks for hooking this one up.
The House on Pine Street is a well-crafted haunted house indie that, while possessing many classic genre traits, overindulges in the familiar to create an experience that frustrates more than it unsettles. Borrowing the psychological fray of The Shining‘s Jack Torrance and instilling the heightened sense of dread brought on by a young woman coping with the stress of pregnancy á la Rosemary’s Baby, the film promises a few compelling directions and for a while it seems to be heading in at least one of them, until it doesn’t.
Jennifer (Emily Goss) and her husband Luke (Taylor Bottles) have just moved back to Jennifer’s Kansas hometown after she suffered an unexpected mental breakdown in Chicago. The film opens with the pair settling into a rental home, a cozy space that mysteriously has all the furniture of its previous inhabitants still in place. It doesn’t take long for Jennifer, who is seemingly under a great deal of stress facing up to the fact she’s soon to be a mother and having to deal with her overbearing mother Meredith (Cathy Barnett), to start picking up on a strange vibe her house is giving her.
The House on Pine Street dedicates much of its time to exploring the psychosis of a young woman struggling to come to terms with her life as it currently is, and not as she’d perhaps like it to be. Soon after experiencing strange bumps in the night Jennifer tries to convince Luke there’s something wrong with the house and that they should move out and head back to Chicago, a decision he does not agree with. He insists she tries to make the best of it here, reminding her of what they have just escaped from having left the big city behind.
As we plod forward, the temperature in the room starts becoming chillier and the tension amplifies with Jennifer unable to ignore (or explain) the increasingly frequent disturbances. One of the more impressive feats of the film is that we can never be sure if what’s going on is a product of her imagination — she spends a lot of time at home alone, sharing in Mia Farrow’s sense of entrapment and isolation — or if these walls truly harbor a dark and dangerous otherworldly being.
Location scouting affords the film a sturdy foundation: the house is beautiful and creepy all at once, a character unto itself. It also helps that Goss sells the despair of living inside it well. You can’t help but empathize with her as she comes apart at the seams. If we’re not meant to take her side, Bottles makes a strong case for why we certainly shouldn’t root for Luke. His dispassionate response to her claims the house is haunted makes for a chilling character, one that further strands Jennifer from the shores of sanity. Add to that her mother’s grating presence and you are left with a truly no-win situation.
Unfortunately solid acting and an atmosphere dripping with paranoia only go so far in creating a worthwhile watch. Though this generic setup offers nothing we haven’t seen before, it is, more often than not, engrossing. And then the final few scenes happen. The House on Pine Street seems to not only pull out the nails from what has thus far been a piece of solid construction, it also seems content with frustrating viewers with a denouement that makes little sense, one that completely forsakes the reality in which the story is based.
There could have only been two possible outcomes to this little chiller. It’s a pity the least satisfying option was chosen, indicating that perhaps we were never meant to take seriously the film’s mythos to begin with.
Recommendation: For those looking for a new fix in the haunted house subgenre of horror, The House on Pine Street should work well enough, though it’s nothing an aficionado hasn’t seen many times before. Will it win over skeptics of these types of films? That I’m not so sure.
Running Time: 111 mins.
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