Have you ever been lost? Now, I’m not talking about that one time you were driving home from the airport and took the wrong exit, taking you on the journey of a lifetime to a different state (don’t ask). I’m talking about being lost, in the woods, with the sun going down and no landmarks around you to send you in the direction of your home. I have been, and let me tell you, it’s terrifying. You scan the horizon for any sign of life, just hoping to be inside your bed before the chill sets in and the animals get hungry. That’s where Reinert Kiil’s The House picks up, and it immediately sets you in that world of confusion and panic, making the wide-open forests of Norway feel claustrophobic and sinister.
Released in Norway back in 2016, The House (or Huset in Norwegian) is a supernatural haunted house film set during the waning days of World War 2. We come upon three Nazi soldiers (soon to be two) and a Norwegian prisoner in the snow. As the fallen Nazi soldier, Max, dies, Lieutenant Jurgen Kreiner (Mats Reinhardt) and his paratrooper companion Andreas Fleiss (Frederik von Lüttichau) decide to strike out and try to find the fjord where the rest of the invading German army is stationed. As they trudge along in the knee-deep snow, we see that their Norwegian Captive, a man named Rune (played by Sondre Krogtoft Larsen) is badly hurt and slowly dying. When he finally falls and doesn’t get up, they two Germans look up and see a house in the distance.
This opening act is short and sweet, but it packs a powerful punch. In the span of less than ten minutes we are introduced to our main characters, see the conflict raging around them, and get lost in the Scandinavian wilderness. The snow is deep, and the wind is cold. They can’t get their bearings because of both their proximity to the north pole and the white-out conditions of the horizon. What should be South is North, and what should be East is West.
The Norwegian trees loom above them like silent witnesses, waiting for that final step where they cannot go on any longer. They stare down at these three men, waiting to consume them for only the next year’s thaw to reveal. As they cautiously enter the house, there seems to be someone home. There is a boiling pot of food on the stove, the radio is on, and every light and candle in the house is illuminated. As they search the rooms, however, no one can be found. What they do find is an ancient-looking ledger, or guest book, that has tales written in them from dozens of other travelers. After finding the ledger, they settle in the parlor and try to get some sleep as the wind howls against the old white structure and the spirits inside begin to stir.
This house isn’t your typical Norwegian country home, as you can probably guess. The floorboards creak, the lights flicker, and windows open on their own. Kreiner and Fleiss walk the hallways, guns in hand, hoping to catch whoever is playing these tricks on them. What they encounter are cryptic Viking runes on small closet doors, scratching noises from the walls and small objects moving on their own. Sounds like a typical haunted house story, doesn’t it? Seems like we’ve seen this movie before a thousand times. What The House does better than most of those others is the atmosphere it is able to create in an otherwise boring old farmhouse.
There aren’t any spiderwebs adorning the candelabras. There isn’t a spooky organ playing in the attic. What there is, however, is the masterful shadow work of Director Reinert Kiil and his cinematographer John-Erling H. Fredriksen. Every corner of this house is shrouded in inky, black shadow. It’s a changing darkness, too. As we watch these men start to slowly lose their mind, the shadows get darker, the hallways get shorter and the edges of your vision begin to swim with malevolent intent. The titular house is a being on its own. It is evolving, it is changing, moving these characters wherever it wants them to go. A noise here, a figure moving in the background there, and these soldiers go running with their weapons drawn. There are a few jump-out scares in The House, but they are few and far-between. What this film thrives on is the background, much like the perfect The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity. Our eyes are drawn to the empty spaces behind the characters, searching the far away doorframes for the slightest indication of incoming evil.
“Our eyes are drawn to the empty spaces behind the characters, searching the far away doorframes for the slightest indication of incoming evil.”
Controversial Opinion Alert: Nazis are bad. Like, they are really bad, you guys. They did a lot of terrible things (they still do, if you include all of their acne-scarred fanboys out there) and deserve no sympathy or sense of empathy from us at all. That’s why, when we were given two Nazi soldiers as our main characters at the beginning of The House, I was a little hesitant. This being a horror film, I knew that these two goose-stepping buttholes were about to encounter some tough times, and I didn’t care at all. “Good!”, I exclaimed to myself as I ate Cheetos in bed like the true sex symbol I am. As the movie progressed and I yelled at my cat that “I hope there’s a ghost that’s super good at punching Nazis”, I began to realize that we were not supposed to sympathize with these two soldiers. We weren’t supposed to feel any empathy towards them at all. Instead, we are supposed to watch as they suffer for their crimes.
What Kiils does so well in The House is give us protagonists that are deeply flawed without having to explain to us why. All we have to do is look at the swastikas on their uniforms to understand that these are men that have bought into an evil ideology. The information we gather about them only helps reinforce our opinions of them. Kreiner sorted men, women and children into two groups at a concentration camp. One for work, the other for gas. Fleiss was abusive to his girlfriend because he found a sex toy in her drawer. These men are haunted by their pasts in The House, much like the people of Germany were for generations after the fall of the Third Reich. The actions of our pasts leave scars on our souls that must be dealt with before we are allowed to move on. Sins that haunt us and force us to take a look at the balance sheet within ourselves.
“What The House ultimately shows us is that the bill will come due, whether we are ready to pay it or not.”
What The House ultimately shows us is that the bill will come due, whether we are ready to pay it or not. And, while the ending of the film left a little to be desired, the film as a whole is an effectively creepy haunt. What would we see in the hallways of The House if we stumbled upon it in a time of need? What past action would scratch at the door and pull us into the darkness instead of letting us move into the light? What story would you have to write in the ledger before finally closing your eyes and accepting your fate?
The House will be released to North American audiences on March 5th via DVD and Digital HD. You will be able to pick it up through iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, Vudu and others. Where do you land on the ghost/demon vs. Nazi fight? Join the conversation on Twitter, our Official Subreddit, or the Fiend Club Facebook Group and let us know!