Last Girl Standing played at FrightFest last year and tackled what happens after the slasher film ends. From a House on Willow Street takes a similar approach to the possession film.
A group of kidnappers lead by Hazel (You’re Next’s Sharni Vinson) line up their next target: Katherine (Carlyn Burchell), the daughter of a filthy rich diamond baron. But something feels off when the crew enter Katherine’s family home: there’s no one to be seen, the door’s already unlocked and the security system’s disarmed. There’s also the little detail of the strange patterns gouged into the back of Katherine’s wardrobe. As you may have guessed, Katherine’s soul isn’t entirely in her control.
It’s a novel set-up and the blend of kidnapping thriller and possession film works well early on. But, as Hazel and the gang get Katherine back to their creepy abandoned warehouse, the film devolves into a repetitive haunted house film. The demon in question has the ability to bring its victims’ worst nightmares to life and these horrific creations are well designed. As a result, the first few jump scares deliver the goods.
But it soon becomes clear that scary-face-going-boo-in-the-dark is pretty much all they’ve got, and the constant stream of repetitive scares gets tiresome. In the Q+A following my screening, one of the producers and stars discussed modern horror’s tendency to have a big early scare and then nothing until the finale. If that’s a problem (and I don’t necessarily think it is), then From a House on Willow Street takes it to the other unsustainable extreme. In the end, the more we see, the less scary it becomes.
There are some nice visuals to match the bloody make-up effects, but the film suffers from a severe case of cheap CGI fire. The hot stuff goes on to play quite a significant role in one of the character’s back stories, but I was taken out of the film every time fake-looking sparks starting shimmering across the frame.
I can only imagine it was an issue of budget. The film was made in South Africa (a nation not renowned for its genre output, as the filmmakers openly admit), but uses an international cast and is set in the US, with American characters. The creative team expressed their desire to make an American-style horror movie (partly because it would be easier to sell), but it seems a shame that they chose to distance themselves from any cultural identity at all.
From a House on Willow Street has an interesting idea at its core, but kind of drops the bomb with an over-zealous barrage of samey jump scares. While the film did enough to satisfy my pulse, my head was left wanting.
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