Ethan is a college student who hasn’t seen his family in awhile, and he’s on the brink of success with a major experiment with wireless electricity. When his parents die suddenly in a car accident, he needs to drop everything and come home to take care of his younger brother and sister. However, when he cannot stay away from his experiment, he realizes that wireless electricity isn’t all he’s conjured up.
Our House begins with a preoccupied Ethan (Thomas Mann) ditching family dinner to go work on a groundbreaking experiment back at school. They cause a blackout on campus when performing what is ostensibly a sanctioned experiment, and then they bolt as though they just broke into a store to steal Butterfingers. Then he gets the phone call. After the sudden deaths of his parents, Ethan returns home from college to care for his younger siblings, teenage Matt (Percy Hynes White) and grade-schooler Becca (Kate Moyer).
Now very much downtrodden and faced with the daily routine of breakfast, school, mundane work at the hardware store, swim practice, dinner, repeat, Ethan slowly begins to work on his project in the garage, hoping that a success will change their lives. Our House exhibits great, realistic family dynamics from the outset, which deepens as the film progresses. Through the tragedy, Ethan tries desperately to cope with running a family, while his younger brother Matt is understandably angry and hurting and Becca is fragile yet trying to keep it together. I appreciate especially that Ethan never pulls the resentful young adult card on his siblings–he loves them and is sacrificing everything for them, never blaming them for derailing his life.
As the machine starts to work, creeping gaseous tendrils begin to edge their way toward him from behind, but when the machine cuts out, they fade. Further examples of this ensue throughout the house, and his siblings begin to notice the activity. Becca begins talking to the spirit of their mom who seems to hide under the bed. She tells Matt that, “They watch me while I sleep.” Moreover, she has a new friend Alice, whom her mom doesn’t want her to talk to. Creepy! Matt also sees the ghastly tendrils (which look a bit too similar to the demons from Supernatural) and begins to realize strange things are happening. All very nice and eerily conventional, though well executed.
I appreciate many of the touches that director Anthony Scott Burns adds to separate Our House from other films in the genre. The kids’ neighbour Tom (Robert B. Kennedy) comes by the house after some terrifying experiences, letting Ethan know that, “The machine has a radius beyond this house.” Most haunted house films confine themselves to the property the main characters inhabit, but with a device generating spirits, it’s not as simple as that. I wish that this had been explored just a bit more, but I love the premise. Ethan realizes that “I’ve opened some kind of door, whether I like it or not. If there’s a chance we can talk to mom and dad, we’ve got to try.” Once he continues the experiments, it’s unclear what exactly he’s now attempting to accomplish–there’s a lot of dial-turning, though. What is clear, however, is that his machine is bringing something forth that he doesn’t intend.
I truly applaud Our House for blending science fiction into the haunted house genre. Brilliant science student Ethan unwittingly creates some kind of pathway to the spirit realm while trying to create wireless electricity. I appreciate this interesting idea, recalling the Ghost Hunters or Ghost Adventures teams who use pseudoscience to explore the potential hauntings. The film asks when people feel spirits or presences, why do they feel the symptoms of static electricity or electromagnetic sickness? And yet, they’re not foolish enough to try to make this hard sci-fi, where our own BS-meters would be pinging.
Our House is beautifully filmed, taking its time with establishing, atmospheric shots. Furthermore, the mise en scene is precise, recalling Hereditary, though only slightly less refined, making good use of focus to draw our attention. The tension is well-placed, offset with nice humour and just enough of a picture of the entity without giving too much away. Additionally, the acting here is superb, with maybe the exception of Robert B. Kennedy who hams it up a bit much. Each of the siblings is a well-realized character, relating to one another with ease, genuinely feeling like family. For Burns’ first feature-length outing, this is a promising career starter and a good shot of life to a tried and true genre film.