I love a good haunted house film, no matter how many of them there are or what angle is used, I’m here for it. So I was more than happy to watch IFC Midnight’s OUR HOUSE, director Anthony Scott Burn’s feature debut. What’s even more intriguing to me about this film is that it was written by Nathan Parker, who wrote the screenplay for Moon, one of my favorite films of the 21st century. Based on the 2010 Matt Osterman film Ghost From the Machine, OUR HOUSE exists as its own distinct separate entity from the source material.
OUR HOUSE begins at a family dinner in a house that I could’ve sworn must’ve been in 1988 as opposed to 2018. Replete with a turntable, retro appliances, and even the style of dress and music that are in the opening scene leads to a nostalgia for a lost time. Ethan (Thomas Mann; Project X, Me & Earl & The Dying Girl) is the oldest son of a family of which we never discover the surname. His parents, Richard (John Ralston; Living in Your Car) and Marie (Allison Hossack; Stargate SG-1, Fringe) are very excited to have him and his girlfriend, Hannah (Nicola Peltz; Bates Motel, The Last Airbender) over for dinner. Even though Ethan is only a half hour away from them at college, his family hasn’t seen him for months. His little brother Matt (Percy Hynes White; The Gifted, 11.22.63) and little sister, Becca (Kate Moyer; in her feature film starring debut) are also incredibly excited to see their brother.
There is a dark turn to the evening when Ethan tells his parents he will not be staying the night, due to a massive secret project he’s been working on for months with Hannah. His father is very disappointed and tells Ethan he needs to keep his priorities straight. Ethan thinks he is. His secret project, a fantastic invention called the ELI (Electro-Magnetic-Induction), which in it’s finished form, would provide wireless electricity, is massive in scope. Ethan and Hannah go to a lab in their university and conduct an experiment with ELI. It appears to have gone wrong, an alarm goes off in the school, and the student-scientists have to make a run for it. After escaping school security, Ethan receives a phone call no one ever wants to get.
His parents died in a car accident and then the film flashes forward to three months later. He has quit college for the time being and moved into his family home. Everything remains the same in the house. The parent’s room stays untouched and (generally) unvisited, almost like a shrine to them. The continued use of 80’s color palettes, fashion, and even the cars leave us disjointed from time in the reality of this film’s world. It’s only when we occasionally see an iPhone or Matt’s video game headset that we realize it is the present day where the film takes place.
Ethan is now his siblings’ primary caretaker and has taken on a job at the local hardware store. ELI lays collecting dust in the workshop. Until one day when Ethan’s boss sends him home early. Ethan begins to tinker around with ELI obsessively, forgetting to pick up his brother and sister from swim practice on time. Ethan’s obsession with fixing ELI becomes his utmost priority, which is illustrated with a full sink of dishes and his propensity to drop off and pick up his siblings from school late.
Soon, we realize ultimately that ELI has been working all along and since Ethan’s neighbor helped him steal some more electricity, weird things have started happening, especially in the house. The tried and true paranormal trope of kids being most susceptible to interaction with ghosts is used perfectly in OUR HOUSE. Becca, the youngest, is the first person to realize that their mom and dad are still in the house. The longer the machine stays on, the weirder things get and the more people get thrown into the supernatural fray.
The film only has one or two jump-scares, it is mostly an exploration of grief and technology. I’m being serious here, because I know I read some pieces here and there saying that Hereditary didn’t “really” have any jump-scares and that’s a straight out laughable falsehood, or I’m a wimp, but I don’t think that’s it. Anyway, this film really only has one or two truly unnerving, scary scenes, and it’s rated PG-13, but don’t let that scare you off. It’s definitely worth seeing, but it’s certainly a slow burn. There’s more focus on the family and ELI than the ghosts themselves, so be forewarned.
I shouldn’t fail to mention that the cinematography is beautiful with plenty of aerial shots in Ontario. As I’ve gone on and on about, the production design is fantastic and really facilitates the mood of the film, and of course Nathan Parker’s script is incredible. I recommend this film if you have a younger sibling, niece, nephew, or maybe even a kid of your own that is interested in scary movies but might be too young to watch them. It really is an interesting approach to the “haunted house” film.
OUR HOUSE had its World Premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival on July 22nd. OUR HOUSE arrives in theaters, VOD and Digital Platforms on July 27th from IFC Midnight.