Running Time: 109 minutes
Vancouver-based filmmaker Desiree Lim re-teams with her frequent collaborator, actress Natalie Skye for the genre mash-up The House and the result is a cool, stylish drama part ghost story but mostly dream-like melodrama.
In place of predictable thrills common to haunted house movies, Lim emphasizes the grief, anger and matter-of-fact sense of loss expressed by her characters – both alive and dead.
Jean Kaneko (Skye) is a former investment banker at a Wall Street firm who left behind her well-paid career to travel the world and write a travel book. Jean retreats to the vacant house of a friend’s family for time alone to work on her writing.
While alone in her friend’s sleek, sprawling mansion, a series of ghosts, a young husband and wife (Emilie Ullerup and David Richmond-Peck), the wife’s older brother (Alex Zahara), an immigrant taxi driver (Zahf Paroo) and a rock band member (Zak Santiago) visit Jean. Much like Ebeneezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, each ghostly visitation helps Jean cope with her own guilt about working through the 9/11 terrorist attacks and watching the World Trade Center towers crash to the ground as well as her role in America’s recent financial collapse.
There are no jolts in The House; proof of how much Lim tweaks the paranormal elements of her story. Instead, there are a series of melodramatic outbursts; some bordering on soap opera, as each ghost reveals their back-stories to Jean.
Lim brings a unique voice to The House and deserves marks for creative risk-taking as she attempts a somewhat surreal story that veers between the context of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and the philosophical leanings of Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit.
Skye gives a steady, assured performance as Jean, a confident and attractive businesswoman who doesn’t realize the depth of her anxieties.
Unfortunately, Skye and her co-stars have to deal with the story at their fingertips and The House has its share of dramatic stumbles and interview-with-a-ghost moments that crash the storytelling momentum. Still, it’s admirable how Lim aims for the kind of movie mash-up seldom seen in either independent or mainstream cinema.
Lim and her crew also bring a luxurious polish to the story via subtle lighting, steady camerawork and great use of the movie’s single-location storytelling.
The House may be an independent feature with a modest budget but Lim makes full use of her stylish location ripped from the pages of Architectural Digest.
It’s an interesting balance for Lim, who makes her feature-length directing debut with The House after a couple of short films. Her movie may be stark and subtle in terms of its visuals but Lim fearlessly pushes The House to soap opera-like extremes even if that results in some unplanned chuckles.
Still, you have to applaud an emerging filmmaker willing to experiment and take risks at a time when safe and predictable movies are the norm.
The House is available for acquisition via WonderPhil Productions. After festival screenings at the Vancouver Women in Film Festival, the Vancouver Asian Film Festival and the Newport Beach Film Festival, The House continues its festival circuit with showings at The Female Eye Film Festival in Toronto in June.
Cast: Natalie Skye, Zak Santiago, Alex Zahara, Emilie Ullerup, Zahf Paroo, David Richmond-Peck
Director: Desiree Lim
Screenwriter: Desiree Lim
Cinematographer: Thomas Billingsley
Editor: Eliot Piltz
Music: Brent Belke
Production Designer: Shauna Michell
Producers: Tatata Pictures
Running Time: 109 minutes
Rating: Rated Unrated
Release Date: Spring 2012