Straight out of an actual haunted farmhouse in Maine* comes The Hanover House, a moody new supernatural thriller from director/co-writer Corey Norman. On the surface the film’s premise sounds like a simple haunted house flick, but Norman fills his home with lofty ideas concerning grief, abandonment, and second chances. Sounds like a total bummer, huh? Well it is. The film offers a bleak look at the family demons that haunt the protagonists, and not much else. It presents an interesting approach of “haunted house therapy,” which I liked. But for all of its hypothetical demon exorcising, The Hanover House never has time to be entertaining or engaging.
Robert and Shannon Foster are newlyweds with lots to look forward to, including a bun in the oven. Then the phone call comes that Robert’s long-estranged father has died. Attending the funeral is real difficult for him, not just because he’s lost the father he barely knew, but also due to the presence of his shitty, self-centered mom and her scornful slob of a boyfriend. Tensions wear thin during the repast, as Robert struggles to deal with his mom and the painful memories of his father.
On their drive back home, as Shannon tries to console him, Robert hits a young girl with his car. He sees the lights on in a nearby farmhouse and takes off in search of help. Once he enters the house (of Hanover), Robert does battle with his worst inner demons – the ones that have been festering inside him so long they’ve been preventing him from reaching his full potential as a husband and future dad. That’s some heavy shit for a 72 minute movie.
Especially when the first 25 minutes play out like a drab family drama. It’s established early on that Robert and his folks had a turbulent relationship when he was growing up, but we spend a bit too much wallowing in those painful memories during the film’s first act, and then further lurching in the emotional doldrums once Robert and Shannon enter the house.
What the house wants from them is up to interpretation, which is The Hanover House‘s biggest strength. Our hands are never held as Robert and Shannon make their way separately through the house. They are forced to deal with their troubled family histories in a way that may make some audience members think about their own domestic horrors. These esoteric messages and warnings are delivered throughout the house, culminating in a showdown in the basement. There are hints of the occult in this climactic scene that are completely unnecessary. The supernatural elements are better left suggested in this kind of introspective film, not thrown in our face. This basement scene sorta weakened the emotional impact of the film with its traces of an occult ceremony that never connect to anything presented prior.
Despite the climax’s shortcomings, actress Casey Turner delivers a strong, grounded performance. Robert (played nicely by Brian Chamberlain) may be the driving force behind the film’s themes, but its Casey’s Shannon that keeps a firm grip on the story even during its most absurd moments. Director Norman, who’s been cutting his chops for years producing, editing, directing TV documentaries and short films, shows heaps of sharp craftsmanship. There’s an understated style to his work here, one that suits the film’s meditative nature and creeping death vibe.
The Hanover House is an interesting take on the haunted house motif, albeit one that tromps around the depressing murk a bit too much for my tastes. It’s well crafted and Casey Turner delivers a great performance filled with conviction, but while the film is busy bumming us out, it never has time to truly engage us.
* the film was shot in an allegedly haunted farmhouse in Maine.
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