Directed by Gabriel Carrer
Pity poor Heather and Steve, the fun-loving young couple we meet at the beginning of In the House of Flies, a grueling psychological endurance test of a film featuring two of the strongest, most heartbreaking performances you’ll see in any movie this year. House opens with the two as they enjoy a night out on the town – walking hand-in-hand, laughing, bopping about an arcade, and contemplating the possibility of marriage. Just as the “so 80s it hurts!” opening credit sequence ends, so does the fun: Heather and Steve get back into their car, only to find the smell of chemicals and promptly pass out.
And yeesh, is that where the nightmare begins! The two wake up and find themselves locked up in a dingy, insect-ridden basement with no exits and only a small window serving as their sole link to the outside world. Confusion sets in. Anger. Panic. Before long a telephone enters the picture, bringing with it a cold, tough voice (belonging to unseen star Henry Rollins) that issues as many insults as it does instructions, pushing the couple to the brink of sanity with his demands and jeering. The Voice promises food and water to the couple, so long as they behave and follow orders. And, unfortunately, the orders usually involve some sort of punishment – punishment the couple must dole out on each other if they wish to stay alive. Punishment such as burning themselves with matches, punching each other, and…well, I’ll say no more.
As their predicament grows worse and worse, Heather and Steve begin to deteriorate both mentally and physically. Hungry, sleep deprived, and desperate, the two are driven not only by self-preservation, but also by a revelation Heather gives Steve at the beginning of the second act that ratchets up the tension considerably (and will go unspoiled here). The more their conditions worsen, the more the two lash out. At The Voice, at each other, and even at themselves. But no matter how much they beg and plead, The Voice has no intentions of letting the couple go. At least, not without a great deal of pain first…
Given the synopsis, one might be inclined to assume that House is yet another entry in the much maligned torture porn sub-genre. And indeed, the movie does share some similarities to the first Saw film (regrettably, the line “Let’s play a game” does make an appearance). However, the movie falls more along the lines of Rodrigo Cortés’ Buried, as it’s more concerned with a human being’s reaction to an extreme situation in an enclosed environment rather than being a movie focused solely on torture and degradation.
While certainly not for everyone, this spare film is one of the better indie horror flicks I’ve had the pleasure of seeing this year. Director Carrer shoots with a sure eye, keeping even the most hideous of moments looking pretty fantastic. He also does a great job of keeping the tension palpable, not only with the performances, but with the tiny, unnerving details he litters throughout the film (the buzzing of flies, the skittering of insects, the howling of nearby coyotes). Credit must also go to Angus McLellan’s script, which balances the horror with a great deal of character-driven drama.
Newcomers Ryan Kotack and Lindsay Smith are both stunning as the leads. Each actor gives a gut-wrenching performance, making you care for them even though their characters have little given backstory for the viewer to latch onto. It’s a testament to their abilities that they can keep the virtually plotless first act so fascinating. The entire movie hangs on these two, and they carry it admirably. Hell, speaking of the acting – Henry Rollins literally phones in his performance, and he’s utterly chilling. His villain is one mean, black-hearted son of a bitch, and Rollins plays him perfectly, refusing to put the sort of mustache-twirling, cartoony histrionics into his vocal performance a less confident actor might have been tempted to.
Not everything about the movie works as solidly, though. One wishes that The Voice might have had a sturdier motivation for what he was doing, and the writing comes up wanting a bit when In the House of Flies reaches its conclusion. In addition, some sections feel incredibly disjointed. Sometimes this helps keep the viewer off balance (a good thing), but the occasionally choppy storytelling leaves one feeling more unsatisfied than not.
Still, indie horror flicks this intense, horrific, well acted and thought-provoking are few and far between these days. If the notion of slow-burn horror films doesn’t offend you (can’t wait for the comments section below), you’d do well to pay this House a visit.
3 1/2 out of 5