Saturday, 23 January 2016

the house on pine street

the house on pine street follows a young married couple, pregnant jennifer (emily goss) and out-of-work luke (taylor bottles), who move to a new house in a quiet neighbourhood to prepare for the arrival of their first child. except the house doesn’t want them there.

it’s tough to watch any horror film in which the main character is pregnant without thinking of rosemary’s baby, and the house on pine street feels more and more like that film as it progresses. while there is a seemingly malevolent presence in the house, the ghost never appears half as nefarious as jennifer’s mother who is intent on controlling her daughter’s life. similar to rosemary's baby, that’s essentially what this film is about – control, who wants it, who has it, and how we lose it. cathy barnett does a great job as overbearing mother meredith who seems to want to control every aspect of her daughter’s life, from where she lives to her husband’s career choices.

much of the film is concerned with the way jennifer is tormented by the spirit. it starts small, shadows on walls, handprints in the dust in the basement, but gradually escalates to objects being thrown and eventually people. jennifer’s investigations into the spirit don’t reveal much, and that really helps create an atmosphere. while there is a medium character who comes in to help out, there is no real solution to the mystery here, the ghost is just something that’s happening that jennifer has to deal with on top of everything else. then there’s always the possibility that she’s losing her mind and the filmmakers do great job of keeping this open.

towards the end of the film jennifer is so affected by the haunting that she’s effectively reduced to a childlike state and this is exactly what her mother wanted. ultimately it’s not the ghost that’s scary, it’s the loss of identity, personality and control. in that sense it’s really a film about the psychological dangers of having a child. jennifer’s mother and her husband take over every aspect of her life because to them it’s not just about jennifer and what she wants anymore, it’s about the baby. jennifer is reduced to being a vessel for the baby, and the horror of the haunting and the sense that she is losing her mind serve as fantastic methods of portraying her struggle with her new role in life. rather than a new beginning, the baby seems to represent the end of jennifer’s old life and the end of who she is. this film, maybe even more than rosemary’s baby, made me never want to have kids.

while this is for the most part a slow-paced horror film with most of the focus put on building and maintaining an atmosphere, there are some effective scares. once things do kick off there are some pretty impressive effects too and there’s a jolting gear shift from subtle shadows to full-on furniture tossing that’s actually kind of thrilling. emily goss is really impressive in the lead, particularly considering she has to completely carry the film and is in every scene. she manages to maintain our sympathy whilst also making us question her reliability as storyteller towards the end. i also really liked jim korinke who played walter, the amateur medium she turns to for help. there was something very real about his portrayal of a man who thinks he has a sixth sense but at the same time isn’t sure he believes in ghosts.

there is little in the house in pine street that you won’t have seen before but as a straightforward, effective supernatural horror film it does what it sets out to do very well. it’s a little on the long side and for all my love of slow-paced horror i would’ve liked it to have picked up the pace a little sooner, but these are minor quibbles really. overall this is really promising work and i look forward to seeing what directors aaron and austin keeling do next.

the house on pine street will be released by second sight on download-to-own on 25 january 2016 and vod & dvd on 1 february 2016

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