Electro-Magnetic detectors, readers, and doo-dads have long been touted as tools to capture evidence of the paranormal. (Despite little evidence or – well, plain old science proving them as means to contact an alternate universe, life-force, what-have-you.. But that’s another article altogether.) Until now, we’ve pretty much settled for late-night reality shows following green night-vision cameras and narcissistic hosts shouting into the ether in the basement of an abandoned prison to get our ghostly electro-charge. That, or watching Bill Murray and crew vacuuming up a giant mischievous booger with a Proton Pack (TM).
Paranormal thriller Our House serves up a new version of this sciencey sounding theory, and offers a subtle, spooky coming-of-age ghost story along the way.
Our House is directed by Anthony Scott Burns (Holidays, “Father’s Day” Segment), from a screenplay by Nathan Parker, and based on the 2010 independent film Ghost from the Machine.
We are quickly introduced to a middle-income, nuclear family in a quiet residential neighbourhood, in an equally quiet town. Shot in Port Hope, Ontario (which you may be familiar with as the tree-lined streets and quaint downtown of Derry, Maine in Andy Muschietti’s It). We often peak down in bird’s-eye glances – catching the tall church on the hill, the shady trees with trunks wide-enough for a hiding behind in a game of Manhunt, and the mostly blue coastline of lake Ontario to the south.
It is easy to see that our hero, probably genius and electrical tinkerer Ethan (Thomas Mann), is a big fish in a small pond. After a quick debate from his parents, Ethan ditches family dinner in suburbia to sneak onto the college grounds for a little late-night experimenting alongside his friend and girlfriend, Hannah (Nicola Peltz). His invention, ELI (short for Electro-Magnetic-Induction), is designed to be a replacement to our current delivery system of electricity. Ethan’s hope is his machine will power the air itself, creating a wireless charge that will light up their test bulb, and then hopefully, the whole world.
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They flip the machine on… and nothing happens.
Ethan cranks the juice, and still, the lightbulb stays dark. This shorts the power and sets off the school’s alarm system. But not before we catch a glimpse of a spooky, black mist manifesting inside the glass of the light bulb. With the late-night security now running through the halls, our ragtag scientists must put ELI‘s trial run on pause for another night.
But when Ethan gets a call that his parents have been in a tragic accident, another night doesn’t come. His life is turned upside down as he becomes the primary caregiver for his young sister Becca (Kate Moyer), and pre-teen brother Matt (Percy Hynes White). College is put on the backburner, and so are the family dishes. ELI collects dust in the garage.. until an opportune moment allows Ethan to delve back into his obsession.
Turning the machine back on, it works – only instead of amplifying electricity, ELI seems to be strengthening something else hanging out on the electro-magnetic plane. Thus ensues a slow, subtle, and eerily effective trip into the paranormal. Ethan’s house becomes home to a paranormal entity, amplified by ELI. One that prefers to go by the name of Mom and Dad.
Though set in present day, Our House touches on that 80’s aesthetic and nostalgic wave genre audiences have been surfing since Netflix’s breakout hit Stranger Things. With plenty of floral patterns, vinyl records, a retro minivan, and a subtly synthy score – Our House is able to tap into that aesthetic without giving us a sore tooth. The 80’s nostalgia train is about ready to leave the station, but Anthony Scott Burns’ delicate hand steers us far enough away from gimmick and parody to create a solidly stylized mood and tone.
“Our House is able to maneuver effective scares and tension into its subtle tapestry.”
Despite its PG13 rating (for some reason a cringeworthy word to much of the horror community), Our House is able to maneuver effective scares and tension into its subtle tapestry. We spend much of the film empathizing with our orphaned leads as they learn their new dynamic as a family. All the while, the tension of what ELI, often left whirring unattended in the garage, could really be doing. Are the manifestations really as kind as they seem? Why do they seem so keen on the machine being stronger? Who is this Alice girl that Becca has begun talking to?
Our House’s only detriment is that it spends too much of the run-time in the thick of family turmoil. Though the audience’s emotional connection to the family is well earned (100% in part because of the dynamite portrayals from the film’s young cast and probably my favorite moments), the climax and explanation behind the paranormal experiences seem a bit rushed. Our ghosts never get to fully manifest as villains. Rather they remain to be spooky, smokey apparitions that one can vanquish with the flip of a switch. Their scares are effective when they come, but disappear into the next scene, not to be referred to, referenced from, or a hindrance from pressing on with ELI.
Our House will no doubt be lumped in under the growing Stranger Things resurgence – nestled comfortably between Super Dark Times and Summer of ’84. Horror audiences, though often deterred by PG13 ratings, will fall in love with this truly lovable family and the ghost story they accidentally conjured.
Our House celebrated its world premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal on July 22nd. The film lands on VOD in Canada and the US on July 27th from Elevation Pictures and IFC Midnight.
Check out more of Nightmare on Film Street’s Fantasia Fest Coverage here, and be sure to sound off with your thoughts over on Twitter and in our Facebook Group!