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Our House
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by Jay Seaver

"Don't give the dead a microphone, because there's a lot of them."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2018 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Earlier on in this festival, I reviewed a horror remake and discovered that I had inadvertently come close enough to recreating what I had written about the original movie that I would probably get flagged as plagiarizing myself by the automated services that check for such things. I initially avoided going back to see what I wrote about "Phasma Ex Machina" (aka "Ghost from the Machine") out of curiosity, to see if this happens every time I see a remake where I vaguely remember watching the original, but it turns out that this one is enough its own thing to recommend on its own.

The story is still roughly the same - grad student Ethan (Thomas Mann) and his girlfriend Hannah (Nicola Peltz) leave a family dinner early because a window opens up where they can test their wireless electricity project at the lab, which means that Ethan is not home when his parents (John Ralston & Marcia Bennett) are killed in a traffic accident. Three months later, his life is different - he's working in the local hardware store and more concerned about getting younger siblings Matt (Percy Hynes White) and Becca (Kate Moyer) to school in the morning than the science project gathering dust in his basement, at least until a part ordered before the tragedy arrives, and the electromagnetic field he creates potentially serving as a medium for more than just electricity.

Time flies; the film this remakes is only eight years old and parts of the script seem kind of quaint; I do believe that there is a point where one of Ethan's colleagues is recording their revolutionary wireless electricity invention with a phone that charges wirelessly. Obviously not the same thing, but it shows how fast and loose things get around the plot device - it absolutely had to be tested that night to set up later feelings of guilt, something that uses enough power to black out the city but can be run out of residential basement, especially if they turn out the lights. The film has more than a few moments where you scratch your head, wondering if these guys have ever seen a movie about machines that amplify the spiritual world and a few others that basically say "you know how this goes" as they skip into familiar territory.

Fortunately, the last chunk of this movie is good jump-y fun, and a genre movie can get away with a certain amount of wheel-spinning if it sends one out excited, and Our House does a pretty good job there. Once the filmmakers have established that it's going to be even more exceptionally difficult than usual to convince this family to turn off the machine that gives them some sort of contact with their dead parents, they've got free reign to pile random subplots higher and higher as the film goes on, with a last act that throws as much spooky stuff that isn't necessarily related to the film's themes against the wall as any horror movie. Its split final act may seem random at times, but not only is director Anthony Scott Burns excellent at turning the screw tighter, but the secret room it plays with turns out to be an excellent match for the misused science that reveals it, a temptation to explore that can nevertheless leave you buried alive.

All of this works a little better because, smart as Ethan may be, there's nobody in the group who can be expected to behave wisely. The cast gels quickly, finding a good spot where one believes they're a family making a valiant effort to soldier on on after tragedy while still operating with a believable amount of friction. It's not necessarily an all-time horror movie cast, but they're good enough to watch for reasons behind seeing them get cut down, with Thomas Mann making Ethan lost despite his efforts to be responsible, Percy Hynes White making Matt's grief big and raw but also nuanced, and Kate Moyer the right sort of tough to read as the kid sister. Folks in smaller roles slot into place well, most notably Robert B. Kennedy as a neighbor with a weight of his own and John Ralston as the father just severe enough that one wouldn't necessarily be surprised if he haunted his kids.

"Our House" scores fairly low on most scales of remake necessity - it comes less than a decade after its predecessor, isn't that much grander in scale (though the jump from "self-financed" to "independent" is not insignificant), and doesn't even translate the story to a new language or culture. It's a good remix of the previous film's themes, though, a quality thriller that makes the most out of some familiar material.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=32446&reviewer=371
originally posted: 08/26/18 13:34:02
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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USA
  27-Jul-2018 (PG-13)

UK
  N/A

Australia
  N/A


Directed by
  Anthony Scott Burns

Written by
  Parker Nathan

Cast
  Kate Moyer
  Nicola Peltz
  Percy Hynes White
  Thomas Mann



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