Reinert Kiil’s latest directorial venture, The House (aka Huset), sees two Nazi soldiers, Jurgen Kreiner (Mats Reinhardt) and Andreas Fleiss (Frederik von Luttichau), as well as their Norwegian prisoner Rune Henriksbø (Sondre Krogtoft Larsen), fighting to make their way through a forest in the dead of a Scandinavian winter. The men eventually end up off-course and stumble upon a vacant house. With no other choice than to enter or risk freezing outside, the soldiers commandeer the house only to find that they may not be the only inhabitants.
Few low-budget films have the ability to fully immerse viewers into their settings, but The House manages to do just that. Each moment the camera spends in the wintry wilderness of Norway is another minute the bitter cold seeps into your soul. The characters’ makeup and details lend themselves to the realism of the scenes, presenting wind-chapped, blue skin and frosty clothing. By the time the characters make their way to the house, we’re as desperate as they are to escape the frigid outdoors. As the film presses on and the house becomes more foreboding inside, the alternative of returning outside is too daunting to even consider. We’re fully sold on the fact that these men need to remain indoors, even if it means that they may come face-to-face with angry spirits.
Relatedly, The House boasts some haunting imagery on the inside. Two particular moments stand out: a shot of an ominous, cramped corridor and a room that suddenly becomes covered in crosses and crucifixes across its walls. Both instances showcase how these tiny moments, among others, could have so easily been mundane and lackluster, but cinematographer John-Erling H. Fredriksen takes care to ensure that no scene looks cheap.
The drawback is, however, that the story itself is both confused and confusing. Although there are several interesting shots, none of them seem to have much to do with the narrative – they’re just creepy for the sake of it.
Additionally, the film tries to combine too many horror elements with no clear direction. There are time loops, symbols that may or may not conjure spirits and demons, undead people, possessions and exorcisms, all on top of the overarching ghost story. Perhaps there were just too many ideas to be executed at once, or just simply not enough money to carry out that idea. Regardless of the reason, it doesn’t work. Sometimes less really is more. The House makes the mistake of doing too much and subsequently comes up short across the board. The film may have been better off sticking to just one of these concepts and really nailing the scares.
On the topic of scares, The House doesn’t really work to create enough actual horror. Through its imagery and score, the film does achieve a wonderfully dark tone. However, aside from an object moving slightly from time to time, there isn’t very much going on. There are hardly any scares to speak of. Tension often builds only for the scene to cut before anything happens. It’s disappointing for The House to work so hard to create a perfect ambiance only to mishandle and abandon what most of the audience is waiting for.
Overall, The House has good bones but doesn’t meet its potential. The look and feel of the film are attractive, but the story is ultimately too convoluted and the horror too mellow for the movie to be fully satisfying.