Thursday, November 03, 2016

The Charnel House: Gentrification Horror

It might be a landmark, be the architecture of the former Fairmount Meat Company is pretty severe. Basically, was a slaughter house with a clock tower (always a cause of bad karma). Yet, one developer had a dream of turning the hulking building into luxury lofts, despite its notorious history. Of course, the dream quickly becomes a nightmare in Craig Moss’s The Charnel House (trailer here), which opens this Friday in Los Angeles.

Everyone knows the Fairmount used to be a slaughterhouse. However, Alex Reeves is not exactly advertising its lurid criminal history. Let’s just say the former owner Thomas Schect was putting more than just beef in the ground round. Eventually, the cops caught up with him, but not before he took a header off the tower. Devin Pyles’ father was a longtime employee of the meat processing plant, before his mysterious disappearance. Pyles has purchased a unit hoping to sleuth the fate of his father and that of Schect’s missing son Rupert. Meanwhile, Reeves’ precocious daughter Mia takes up with a rather demanding imaginary friend, also named Rupert.

A title like Charnel House sounds like it should be a gore-fest, but the film is surprisingly restrained. Moss and screenwriters Emanuel Isler and Chad Israel are far more interested in exploring psychological and supernatural themes than engaging in torture porn. However, they rather cruelly create some surprisingly likable tenant characters, but then kill them off mid-way through. Ironically, it demonstrates just why so many horror movies play it safe with shallow stock characters.

Regardless, Erik LaRay Harvey’s smart, commanding presence as Pyles really elevates the film. Callum Blue effectively portrays Reeves descent into Shining-style madness, without slavishly imitating Nicholson. Andy Favreau and Danielle Lauder add dimension and human interest as two neighbors developing a romantic relationship (but don’t get too attached), while Akron’s own Neil Thackaberry adds some attitude and comic relief as Blaine Cornish, the officious landmark commission chairman.

These must be salad days for the Cleveland film office, with the Cuyahoga County-shot Charnel opening the same week as Dog Eat Dog. You can certainly find buildings like the Fairmount around those parts. It is significantly better than the accurate yet misleading title suggests, even though the pacing is a bit slack at times and the third act makes virtually no sense whatsoever. Destined to be a better-than-average Netflix streaming experience, The Charnel House opens tomorrow (11/4) in LA at the Monica Film Center and in New Jersey at the AMC Cherry Hill.