Thursday, July 26, 2018

Our House: Ghosts and Machines in Suburbia

The Lightmans are sort of like Party of Five, but with sinister science fiction and horror elements. Technically, Ethan Lightman, his younger brother Matt, and their little sister Becca would be a party of three, unless you also count the ghosts of their late parents—assuming the spirits really are who they represent themselves to be. Whatever they are, big brother is the one responsible bringing them into contact with his siblings in Anthony Scott Burns’ Our House (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Lightman was determined to conduct his energy transference experiment that fateful night, instead of staying home with his family. As a result, his parents were killed in a freak head-on collision—at least that is how his resentful brother Matt sees it. Lightman dropped out of school to take care of his siblings, but he just can’t let his experiments go.

When Becca starts having conversations with their late mother and various things start going bump in the night, Lightman realizes his Macguffin transmits spirit energy rather than electricity. By the way, it turns out some rather nasty business happened in their house decades ago. That suddenly becomes relevant when the supposed spirits of their parents develop violent tendencies.

Our House is actually a somewhat reconceived remake of Matt Osterman’s Ghost from the Machine, dating all the way back to 2010. Osterman also helmed the strange but quite good 400 Days and the flawed but interesting Hover, whereas Burns only had previous short work to his credit (including the best constituent short in the anthology film Holidays), but apparently producer Kyle Franke developed the project with the latter in mind. It certainly sounds like an unlikely re-whatever project, but here it is.

In fact, Burns displays quite a sensitive touch, privileging the family drama over the horror elements. He is definitely highly attuned to the messy human emotions of all three young characters. His weird suburban 1980s influences also shine through, especially in terms of the film’s look and vibe.

However, the core cast is rather hit or miss. By far, the standout is Percy Hynes White, who always feels really real as Matt, the middle child. On the other hand, Thomas Mann is problematically aloof as big brother Ethan, while some of the minor players are decidedly awkward.

Burns’ command of mood is quite strong throughout Our House, but his pacing is much less so. His commitment to dramatic realism is impressive, but a lot of the core market watches horror and sf to get away from family dysfunction. Still, there is a lot of promise here that could really be something with a tighter first act and more consistent casting. On balance, it is worth checking out, especially those who have a taste for angsty supernatural films, but most of us can safely wait for it to stream on Netflix or Shudder. In any event, it opens tomorrow (7/27) in New York, at the IFC Center.