A lot has been written about horror films relationship and gender politics. Some of the most iconic moments of the genre involve a damsel in distress meeting her end at the hands of a monstrous male figure. From the gothic romance of Hammer horror to the rollercoaster ride of slasher films to the grimy cellars of torture porn, if you’re a woman then you’ve pretty much had it. One-time Rosanne writer Joss Whedon kickstarted his career by in part turning the whole thing on its head and having a blonde cheerleader become a kick ass heroine. But even recent horror films insist on making women the victim.
Burnistoun writer and performer Robert Florence’s debut feature The House Of Him aims to tackle this head on.
Sophie and Anna are invited into a photographers house for a shoot. However when he dons his mask, things take a murderous turn. Anna is left trapped inside the house at his mercy but the skeletons in his closet start rattling and soon the hunter is the hunted. Opening on familiar territory, masked killer murders attractive woman, the bread and butter of slasher movies, so far so ho-hum. But soon it takes a wholly different approach more akin to the domestic drama of Mike Leigh. Mr Croal, the Him of the title, begins to taunt his captive Anna. Asking, telling, her to smile for him. He’s in complete control throughout this time, his voice calm and collected.
Richard Rankin does a grand job in conveying Him’s menace despite being underneath a mask, but is a bit too restrained. I was hoping he would really cut loose and give a more visceral performance but it never came. Not to say my spine wasn’t chilled but he could have been more of an immediate threat. Louise Stewart as Anna however is an absolute revelation, conveying vulnerability and resolute inner strength with ease.
The House Of Him stylistically is a mash up of disparate influences, the suspense of Argento, the domestic reality of Mike Leigh and in the latter half the symbolism of Lynch. The excellent dark synth soundtrack recalls the films of Lucio Fulci too. Florence is wearing his influences overtly here, however he may have bitten off more than he could chew. As it progresses, The House Of Him changes focus and loses direction a little on the way, reaching a little too far. Though really it would be churlish to criticise The House Of Him for over-ambition. It’s a relief to see a low budget horror film relying on ideas rather than recycled conventions and gore. The biggest strength of this film is how it defies expectation at every turn. Just when I thought I had this film pegged, it surprised me. Even successful recent horror films like Oculus and The Conjuring couldn’t manage that.
Intended as the first of a yearly cycle of independent horror flicks, The House Of Him is a slightly frustrating watch. Not fully embracing its setting or limitations. Never being as unhinged as it could be. Thematically however, it’s a strong metaphor for abusive relationships. An area that’s perhaps too real for films outside of gritty kitchen sink dramas. Robert Florence may not have totally succeeded with his aims but he’s to be commended for attempting to tackle such an issue in a new way. Overall The House Of Him is an interesting statement of intent from a studio and while it may not satisfy, it certainly whets the appetite for further productions.
The House of Him is available to rent or buy digitally from Vimeo.
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