DIRECTOR: James Klass
When a couple and their young daughter move into a quaint lake house, they want to make a fresh start for themselves. Little do the couple realise that the lake house has a dark history. Just several years earlier, the previous family was brutally murdered in a ritualistic killing. Once the family moves in, they soon come under the possession of something far darker.
House on Elm Lake begins with an incredibly unpleasant scene where both parent and child are tortured and brutally murdered during a dark ritual. Being utterly repugnant is the primary objective here and what this movie does is it falls back into those exact patterns, time and time again. It doesn't need to appear realistic in any form. It won't have to be overtly obscene and gory. What this house on Elm Lake does to obtain this reaction from me is that it feels like this is all shock for shock values sake. It feels like it doesn't have anything else to say.
From the word go, this movie wastes no time in throwing the audience into complete savagery. I love me some sheer brutality and bloodlust, but when you open your film and within thirty seconds, watch a father stab his own child in the stomach not once but fourteen times while his mother watches on. It feels mean-spirited and not fun. I know that its goal is to set up the house at Elm Lake and why this new family gets it so cheap, but some restraint here still would have reached that point without all that need for such cruelness.
Once we are introduced to this new family that has taken over the property. We are given roughly fifteen minutes of family dynamic before the reasons behind why they have moved into the new lake house are made clear. Tonally, the happy young family thing doesn't feel genuine once we learn the husband has cheated on his wife for the better part of six months. They are now trying to make things work, but for me as an audience member, this makes me automatically hate his character. The more people that we are introduced to, the more they become unlikeable.
It feels like both of the writers set out to write these awful and torturous characters. We have the best friend of our female lead who is the one the husband had an affair with. The only good thing about that dynamic is that it's revealed that the best friend always knew and forgave her. I thought that was a neat touch. We have a babysitter who goes out of her way to scare their daughter. She's just a bitch. Now the cheating bloke and his grovelling missus are the most poorly written of the lot. It's all conflict and no resolution. Even our female psychic isn't memorable here. Not once did I find myself connecting to a single character nor did I care for any of them. I didn't care if they lived or died here.
You can also feel that both writers were inspired by a lot of better horror movies. This feels like a collection of homages or direct moments that have been lifted from other films. The biggest is The Evil Dead. We have the house in the woods. We have a book that while not the Necronomicon is clearly inspired by and wrapped in skin. There is a scene where our main character hires a psychic who enters the house and can already see that a dark entity has possessed her partner like in The Conjuring. It just feels as if no effort has gone into setting itself apart as its own story. Here they have relied on these better films to craft their vision.
The highlight of House on Elm Street is the gore. While the film isn't exactly graphic or realistic concerning gore. There is a lot of bloodshed on display here. This is also a very low budget movie. It was made for roughly five thousand dollars and shot over eight days. For the most part, I found myself liking a lot of the violence even if you could tell the filmmaker was limited. A sex scene that features both parties covered entirely in blood is the highlight of the film for me. Had the production had a bigger budget, I think they have been able to create some bigger set-pieces.
Is House on Elm Street scary? No. I think with a lot of the restrictions placed on the film due to budget. A lot of the scenes that try to play frightening feel very familiar. Not once did I get shocked by any of the jump scares here. The most uncomfortable moments all fall back on our young actress who has to act around an old man who is easily in his late fifties while he is stark naked. A lot of male nudity is shown with our young actress in the same scene. It's either done for real, or they have managed to do some pretty solid camera trickery on their small budget.
Lastly, I wanted to talk about the acting. I think what makes the performances in the film feel like they miss the mark, all fall back on the writing of the characters. Pretty much all of the characters in the movie are either unlikeable or are revealed to have done stuff that one would consider deceitful. The only innocent one is the daughter, and even her character feels underrepresented in the scheme of things. I think our two leads show promise regarding performance; they just haven't been given much to work within this story.
DEATH TOLL: 6
BLOOD AND GORE:
- A child is repeatedly stabbed in the stomach.
- A babysitter's eyes are gouged out.
- A woman is brutally raped.
- A little girl is suffocated with a pillow.
- A woman is killed with an axe.
- A woman is stabbed in the back.
- A sink starts to fill with blood.
- A guy is scratching a leg wound.
- A man urinates and coughs up blood.
- A woman is strangled, and her head is slammed against the floor.
- A woman stabs her husband in the chest twice.
- A man has his head crushed in a car bonnet.
- An old man is seen bleeding out of his mouth.
- A naked woman is seen showering in blood.
- A couple has sex covered in blood.
House on Elm Lake is a swing and miss for me. It's a film that I feel has the best of intentions. No one sets out to make a bad movie. This story is a horror through and through. The film is unpleasant from the opening scene until the bitter end. The is bloody and violent. It's sadly let down by a terrible script that feels like it borrows from much better movies, instead of being its own beast. A familiar retread of the tropes that we've all come to know.