By SHAWN MACOMBER
Starring Thomas Mann, Percy Hynes White and Kate Moyer
Directed by Anthony Scott Burns
Written by Nathan Parker
Outside of a handful of paranormal romance dramedies like GHOST, or some deliciously nutty spectral-tinged Lifetime flicks, the cinematic track record when it comes to opening up a portal to the “other side” is fairly grisly. Time after time, film after film, a protagonist’s skepticism gives way to hope which builds into hubris that eventually slinks toward a creeping dread that transforms into terror and, ultimately, escalates to violation and near-existential disaster.
Yet despite the familiar formula, these stories are, when told with any degree of competency and flair, persistently compelling. It’s not all that difficult to see why: We, along with everyone we know and love, are throughout every single millisecond of our lives hurtling toward death without pause or reprieve. And during those moments in which we’re bold or vulnerable enough to ponder the prime unanswerable question—that is, are we destined to crash into an oblivion-delivering wall, or through a perception-exploding doorway—the stakes could hardly seem higher. The most recent piercing of the veil, OUR HOUSE (out today in select theaters and on VOD) is no exception, spinning a cautionary tale about the iniquities and violence that can be visited upon corporeal humans when we veer into the lane of eternity—albeit with a very real and affecting humanity.
A remake of Matt Osterman’s 2010 indie GHOST FROM THE MACHINE, OUR HOUSE stars Thomas Mann as Ethan, a young and brash inventor who clearly sees himself as a Steve Jobs-esque rebel/disruptor. He and his girlfriend Hannah (Nicola Peltz) are part of a team building a machine to create invisible webs of wireless electricity that will, among other wonders, automatically charge your phone when you walk into a room. In theory, the prominently displayed THE FLY poster on his wall suggests that at some level, he understands the dehumanizing dangers of cutting-edge technology. In practice, the attitude is very much devil-may-care.
It’s a project that completely envelops Ethan until his parents are killed in a car crash and he is forced to leave college, return home and settle into a life of grief, regret and domesticity, working a retail job and raising his two younger siblings, Matt (Percy Hynes White) and Becca (Kate Moyer). Of course, he’s still tinkering with his prototype in the garage—the FLY poster once again hanging like a still-disregarded neon Warning! sign—and it soon becomes apparent that the device has uses beyond wireless phone-charging and light-bulb flaring. Which is to say, little Becca is, shades of POLTERGEIST’s Carol Anne, having long conversations with the dead parents, and Tom next door (Robert B. Kennedy) is chilling with a wife who died years previous.
At first, this is comforting (death is not the end!), and Ethan and Tom pool their knowledge to supercharge the machine. Alas, by the time they realize you can’t create a tear in the fabric of eternity that exclusively allows loved ones and benign spirits through, it is too late and they must square off against a host of somethings very sinister indeed. To succeed, they’ll have to be strong enough to not only battle evil, but to give up the power they’ve discovered and return to mystery.
The strength of OUR HOUSE—as the title suggests—is its multidimensional, nuanced approach to its living subjects. The parents dying, the cavernous grief of Ethan and his siblings, the profound loneliness of Tom, Ethan’s fears of his inadequacy as a guardian—none of these are employed as shallow contrivances to foment spiritual warfare. In fact, to the great credit of director Anthony Scott Burns, writer Nathan Parker and the cast, the pathos and poignancy, beautifully summoned forth, is central to the film, and moving. In the final third, the peril is heightened and gripping not because we haven’t seen ghosts like this before—spoiler alert: we have—but rather because the reality of the characters and story in the first two acts has invested us in the implications of the convergence.
In the end, OUR HOUSE doesn’t get us any closer to the answers regarding our eternal fate. It does, however, ask the questions in a deft and thought-provoking way.