Written by: Matt Molgaard
Directed by: Aaron and Austin Keeling
Cast: Emily Goss, Taylor Bottles, Cathy Barnett, Jim Korinke
Sitting and waiting for a genuinely special horror film to arrive can turn a mood sour. We just don’t get all too many riveting and genuinely frightening films these days. Ironically, that’s a bi-product of the genre’s immeasurable popularity; there’s a new horror flick being released every day. When the market becomes flooded, the overall picture can become a little murky. It’s tough to craft something refreshing when 100 other filmmakers are doing the same thing. But one thing we don’t often see is simplicity, or a minimalist approach. That’s something long gone, today’s filmmakers feeling the need to clutter a picture with jump scares and CGI have become the norm. Appealing to a short attention span has become the norm. Unless you’re Aaron and Austin Keeling.
The Keeling’s 2015 effort (which we haven’t seen released widely in the US, yet) The House on Pine Street is reminiscent of vintage masterpieces like John Carpenter’s Halloween, or William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. The ideas aren’t identical, but the manner in which these gents take their time, gradually developing genuine scares, is a wonder to behold and a trek back in time, simultaneously. The return to a different era comes wildly appreciated, as I’d prefer to see a picture properly nurtured over all other things. I don’t need a jump scare every five minutes, or a computer generated ghost to send a shiver down my spine. All I need is a good story with strong, palpable frights and a handful of characters to remember. The House on Pine Street delivers with near perfection.
The story sees Jennifer and Luke making a move. It’s back to Jennifer’s home soil as they edge toward the birth of their first child. But the house they move into isn’t as peaceful as the exterior might suggest, and Luke has some issues being as attentive as Jennifer clearly needs. A house with a dark but ambiguous past and a relationship closer to taut than comfortable combine to slowly drive the woman insane. That’s obviously not the kind of environment a pregnant woman should be living in, but as Jennifer presses Luke to make more big changes, and get the hell out of the house, their relationship only becomes further strained. Eventually something has to give, the only question is, who’s going to step up and alter their course, Jennifer, Luke or the house on Pine Street?
The first film that’s actually managed to frighten me in some time, The House on Pine Street isn’t far from a microfilm. There isn’t a wealth of greenbacks in this particular pot and that means the Keeling’s have to find creative ways to scare us without dumping a few million into special effects. They do it, wonderfully, and in the process pay homage to a few classics, The Amityville Horror in particular. Shadows are utilized to great effect, as are the physical mannerisms of the performers. Everyone involved seem to be on the same page, which goes a long way in making the picture scary. We don’t see scary very often, but we see it here and we’ve got a pair of very, very promising filmmakers and a few thespians to thank for that.
Emily Goss is handed the challenge of carrying the film on her shoulders. She brings Jennifer to life, a believable, strained and scared soon-to-be mother who feels wholly alone in her terror. But Taylor Bottles, who plays Luke, Jennifer’s husband, does a bang up job of turning Luke into an aloof D-bag who doesn’t seem to have the slightest interest in catering to his wife’s needs. The man is good, for sure, and I won’t be remotely near surprised to see this film do big things for the careers of both Goss and Bottles. These two deserve to climb a few rungs of the professional ladder. And I can’t slip away from performer talk without doling out praise in the direction of Cathy Barnett (Meredith, Jennifer’s mother) and Jim Korinke (Walter, the resident medium… kind of). Barnett is edgy as all hell and Korinke is an absolutely marvelous actor. We haven’t seen much from either of these two, which seems ridiculous given how strong they are, especially Korinke, who damn near steals the show despite only eating up about 15 minutes of screen time. All in all, it’s hard to envision a better suited cast for this particular picture.
The Keelings have done what countless others before them have attempted and failed, they’ve turned a shoestring budget into a mesmeric film. If there’s any fault to find here, it’s a slight disconnection between Jennifer and Luke, as there’s virtually zero affection between the two, which often leaves us feeling challenged in caring for them as a couple. It would have been nice to see more of a marital spiral as opposed to a divided unit from the jump. That said, this is a troubled couple, and we learn of past issues as the feature unravels, so their status as a couple is – to a degree – always questionable. Whether you consider the lack of a genuine bond between the two focal players a problem or not, you’re likely to appreciate the eeriness of the final product. The film is basically free of bells and whistles, allowing for the story, the set and the performances to shine. It’s a smart move from the Keelings. This is a pure chiller, crafted in a way that once was normal, though it’s now become all but extinct. Seeing a throwback film likes this is as special as it is rare. I don’t expect to see a haunted house story this well-executed for another decade or so.
Watch this movie – the first chance you get.