April 6, 2015

Movie Review: The Houses October Built

It is a little out of season, but the other night I checked out The Houses October Built. Ideally, this is a movie that would best be viewed on or around Halloween, perhaps an October marathon. I don't know and in the end I guess it doesn't really matter. What matters is that this is actually a pretty good film. Despite feeling a bit unfocused on what it really wants to be, it still manages to build an atmosphere, feel creepy, plus it is actually interesting. Once you accept the fact that the characters are not going to be as interesting as the subject matter, you are all set.

The Houses October Built is a first person, found footage style movie that follows a group of friends as they go in search of the most disturbing haunts (for those not in the know, haunts are haunted houses, or hay rides, the events that crop up once the cool Fall air begins settle in to signify the approaching of Halloween). They plan to hit as many as they can, film as much as they can, and hope they get scared along the way.

The group visit a few haunts, get to film through a few of them, and even interview some of the workers along the along the way. In addition to looking for the most extreme haunts, the friends are also keen on investigating the rumor that haunts hire those with criminal records, since they apparently do not do much in the way of background checks.

This is a fairly interesting idea and would actually make a pretty good actual documentary. Each year I read bits and pieces about these extreme haunts. Not sure they are to my taste, but I would certainly be interested in an actual documentary about them, unless there is one and I just don't know about it? In any case, this movie gets off to its start with interviews and haunt clips, and this goes on for a little while, but then things begin to take a turn.

They begin to hear talk of an extreme underground haunt that moves around from year to year. The only way to find it is to follow clues from other haunts. So, they begin to try and find this haunt. Along the way they anger some haunt workers and soon find themselves being followed by costumed folk who may or may not have a little malevolent intent. It all builds to a climax hinted at in the documentary style opening.

It shifts gears from haunt visits and interviews, to being followed by creepy clowns, bloody bunnies with axes, and this girl in a a blank mask that is creepy as anything you're likely to encounter at a haunt. The tone gets creepier, the main characters remain bland and uninteresting, but the whole thing remains compelling.

The Houses October Built is an interesting film in that it is good, but it really shouldn't be. It shifts focus in ways that feel the idea was introduced mid-production, thus was not fully integrated from the start. Still, and I feel this is a testament to director Bobby Roe to keep it as involving as it is, when it could have been just as easy to fly off the rails into boredom. It transcends the poor characters and makes something, not exactly special but interesting enough to make you want to watch, perhaps even put you on edge through the building of atmosphere.

You may just see it as another lame found footage movie, and that may be true. That does not discount the fact that found footage is a viable style that can, and has, been used to great effect. This is probably a good example of using it properly, as it sets up a reason for the shoot, and feels pretty genuine. It is certainly worth checking out, especially if you enjoy haunt season, or Halloween.


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