Directed by: Hayley Cloake
Written by: Collin Chang (based on the short story by Edgar Allen Poe)
Starring: Izabella Miko (The Forsaken), Austin Nichols (“John From Cincinnati,” “Deadwood”), Beth Grant (No Country for Old Men), Stephen Fischer, Danielle McCarthy
Buy it from Amazon here!
Young, beautiful physical therapist Jill Michaelson (Miko) receives a call out of the blue from her former lover, Rick Usher (Nichols), who disappeared without explanation three years earlier along with his sister and Jill’s BFF, Maddy (McCarthy). Rick informs Jill that Maddy has died, and her last wish was for Jill to attend the funeral. Jill reluctantly agrees, and joins Rick at his palatial home in New England, which he shares with his caretaker, Mrs. Thatcher (Grant). While there, Rick and Jill rekindle their romance, leading Jill to discover that Rick is actually kinda weird and creepy. She chalks it up to the fact that he is now suffering from the same illness that took the life of his sister, and reluctantly agrees to stay and take care of him.
This being a horror movie, it’s not long before mysterious things begin to happen, and Jill catches glimpses of the deceased Maddy everywhere. Meanwhile, Rick begins acting progressively creepier, and Mrs. Thatcher keeps trying to get rid of Jill at every opportunity. Unwilling to leave her lover, Jill takes it upon herself to investigate the mystery surrounding Maddy’s mysterious appearances, which may or may not provide the answer to Rick’s sudden bout of mysterious behavior. She quickly finds herself heading down a dark path, one that may very well lead to the horrible family secret hidden deep within the House of Usher.
Just in case you were wondering, 81 minutes may not seem like a long time, but it can feel like an eternity if you’re watching a movie as lifeless, boring, pointless, and completely free of tension as novice director Hayley Cloake’s The House of Usher. The film is pretty much devoid of anything that would compel a viewer to continue watching it past the 15 minute mark; the direction is amateurish and bland, the acting is pretty much sub-par across the board, and the story is plodding and thin (not to mention it has almost nothing to do with Poe’s story). The only thing House of Usher really has going for it is the score, which is pretty unconventional for the most part, and evocative of such diverse sources as the electronic tonalities for Forbidden Planet and Trent Reznor’s quieter moments. Even that is sporadic, though, and is not enough to elevate the movie to anything remotely resembling watchable.
This is apparently Hayley Cloake’s first feature-length film, and it really shows. Everything about the film just screams amateur, and the movie looks pretty flat and lifeless throughout. Having said that, however, cinematographer Eric Trageser should be commended for at least trying to make Cloake’s boring compositions look somewhat nice, as at times the film has a sort of washed out look reminiscent of the sort employed by Janusz Kaminski for Spielberg’s Minority Report (and I am in no way comparing the two films, but simply using that as a point of reference). Beyond that, though, there is nothing here that would engage a viewer’s interest, and the film just plods along from one dull scene to the next, and the majority of the film feels like padding that was tacked on to stretch it out to feature length. Prior to House of Usher, Cloake apparently spent the majority of her time directing commercials and short films, and perhaps this is where her strengths lie. I can’t say for sure, as I’ve never seen any of them. Never the less, she should probably stick to what she knows, because based on this effort, she isn’t quite cut out for feature-length films. At least not yet.
The Right Reverend OH-MY-SWEET-JESUS-WHAT’S-
Of course, some of the blame for the film should probably be laid at the feet of screenwriter Collin Chang, who attempts to stretch a short story into a full-length film (even if the film is really an adaptation in name only, and has little to do with the tale upon which it is based), but he couldn’t quite pull it off. As with a number of recent horror films that have gone straight to DVD, this probably would have worked very well as a half hour short. Stretched to 81 minutes, it fails miserably. There are long stretches in which literally nothing happens, and a number of sequences that are completely unnecessary, and it’s obvious that the only reason they were included at all is in order to reach that full length running time.
As an aside, despite feeling like it goes on for a number of years, the film does a terrible job of establishing the time frame in which the story takes place, and the story is terribly compacted. For example, in one scene, the lead characters finally consummate their lust, and in the next, Jill is telling Rick that she missed her period, and is wondering what the should do about the baby. It’s jarring, and serves as yet another barrier preventing the viewer from becoming invested in the film or the plight of the characters.
Ancient Rome was a rather advanced civilization. Why,
even their lesbian porn was way ahead of its time.
Speaking of the characters, the performances in the film are fairly terrible. Izabella Miko is a weak lead, and simply cannot convey the range of emotions that is required of her character. She has one decent scene during the funeral sequence, in which she breaks down and cries over the loss of her friend, but other than that she has one expression, and she sticks with it through the entirety of the film. Austin Nichols is pretty much in the same boat, and really does not manage to sell the transformation from charismatic ex-lover to psychotic recluse. He starts out in full on creepy mode, and remains there until the film’s climax. Beth Grant is pretty much one note as the creepy live-in nurse, and Danielle McCarthy is stuck with a small, underwritten, and fairly thankless role as the dead sister. All in all, this stuff might pass muster on a Sci-Fi Channel original picture (which, to be honest, this movie could pass for, albeit one of the better ones), but it’s not enough to anchor a film based on a story by one of the all-time great writers.
All in all, The House of Usher is pretty much a complete and total failure, but not in any sort of entertaining way. It’s an utterly boring film that plods along interminably before finally culminating in an unsatisfying climax, and manages to wear out it’s welcome well before the halfway point. The movie is so dull, it isn’t even worth watching if you manage to catch it for free on late night cable. There is absolutely nothing to recommend here.
I just don’t know. Stupid writer’s block. At least this
new Sigur Ros track is awesome!”
THE SIGHT AND SOUND
The picture is presented in 16×9 anamorphic widescreen letterbox (2.35:1), and it looks fine for the most part. As I said, the cinematography is nice at times, and the transfer is a pretty good one, all things considered. For the most part, though, the film just looks sort of gray and bland, so it’s definitely not something that you’ll ever use to show off your sweet HD TV. Still, I’ve seen worse.
The sound, on the other hand, is a different story. The is offered in 5.1 Dolby Digital surround or 2.0 Stereo, but the mix is fairly atrocious, and it’s often impossible to make out what the actors are saying without the assistance of subtitles (of which, there are none). Whoever is responsible for the sound on this disc did a terrible job, and it really goes a long way toward further hamstringing a film that needs all the help it can get.
Here we see Michael Jackson’s hyperbaric chamber. It comes
complete with enough room for a small boy at crotch level.
There’s a commentary track with director Hayley Cloake, but it’s pretty much just as dull as the film itself, a handful of deleted scenes, and a gallery of trailers featuring The Killing Floor, Deceit, Gag, The Insatiable, Bloodlines, and Going to Pieces (a damn fine documentary from Thinkfilm, and apparently the only one of the bunch that is worth watching). Nothing special, really, but then again it’s not that much of a loss, as I can’t imagine anyone who would be interested enough in this film to sit through a making of, much less the commentary or the deleted scenes.
You won’t be missing anything if you avoid this one completely. In fact, you’d be doing yourself a favor.