Sunday, May 21, 2017

From a House on Willow Street (2016)

Warning: spoilers ahead!

Hazel (Sharni Vinson), and her friends and partners Ade (Steven John Ward), Mark (Zino Ventura) and James (Gustav Gerdener), all semi-tough people with a troubled past, decide to go for a big score.

Their plan is to kidnap Katherine (Carlyn Burchell) from her family home and trade her back for a bunch of diamonds. Alas, as brilliant as that plan is (you might want to imagine a degree of sarcasm in my voice here), things go very wrong indeed. Acquiring the young woman isn’t really the problem, though she already looks as if she had been kidnapped before our protagonists got their hands on her, but once she’s in their hands, (and repeat after me:) curious things begin to happen. The kidnappers first encounter very loud, jump scary and icky looking ghost versions of their personal dead. Quickly, things devolve into demonic possession and other rather more high-grade supernatural shenanigans.

The first half hour of Alastair Orr’s South African low budget horror film is a bit tough going: the semi-hard boiled dialogue sounds off, the acting’s not terrible yet oddly stilted, and the loud jump scare zombie ghosts look awesome but feel as annoying as jump scares in films that exclusively trade (or in this case seem to trade) in jump scares tend to do.

Persevering with the film might turn out to be a rather good idea, though, at least for those among my readers who share my liking for gory Italian horror and other things wonderful yet probably rather silly. Orr’s film really does share quite a few genes with the louder half of Italian horror: the script is earnest about a lot of decidedly silly things and isn’t afraid to do really awkward stuff. How awkward? How about letting two of the kidnappers go back to their victim’s home because they can’t reach anyone by phone to, one assumes, deliver the ransom note in person, mostly so they can find a bunch of corpses (some of whom they expertly identify not just as priests but as exorcists) and a couple of very convenient expository video tapes that show scenes even more improbable to have been filmed than what we see in most POV horror films, among it the misadventures of two really inept exorcists. Thing is, that’s about the point when the film just might slime itself into the horror fan’s heart with the deeply earnest treatment of very specifically silly possession nonsense, the increasing amount of pretty damn fun special and make-up effects and the general increase of cheap yet creatively awesome horror set pieces that leave the realm of the jump scare as quickly behind as that of logic.

Among the wonderful, gruesome, and silly things one can encounter are the best demon tongues outside of anime tentacle porn, more demonic floating (and not just in that stupid corner at some bedroom ceiling most possession films are so fixated on) than you can shake a stick at, a fight between the burning ghost of a Mum and two demonically possessed (let’s just say Mums beat demons in a fight pretty badly), and choice demonic gloating. The film also attempts some gestures towards thematic resonance and that depth stuff we all have heard about from time to time but doesn’t really manage to get anywhere with it because it is desperately underwritten and generally awkward. However, since its main interest is in some moments of wonderful illogic and in putting Italian style possessed against criminals, that’s only a problem if you as a viewer want it to be one. I, at least, found myself charmed, gripped and delighted by the film’s tone, the effects, and Orr’s good eye for staging a gruesome and over the top scene for little money.

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