House of 9 (DVD)
Starring Dennis Hopper, Kelly Brook, Hippolyte Girardot, Peter Capaldi, Susie Amy, and Raffaello Degruttola
Directed by Steven R. Monroe
Released by Bauer / Martinez Distribution
Stop me if you Saw this one. A group of strangers are abducted and wake up in a house with no escape. Soon they realize that they are there solely for the entertainment of a madman that has speakers and mics set up throughout the house so that he can monitor their every move. Sound a bit familiar? Seen it once or maybe even twice before? Yeah, that's what I thought too. Needless to say when I popped this baby into my DVD player, I expected a trip down Rip-Off Highway by way of the rolling hills of Cash-In. To my surprise things didn't end up exactly how I thought they would. There's a fine line between inspiration and imitation, and while it is near impossible to not draw comparisons between this film and Saw, you may not want to cross this puppy off of your lists just yet. House of 9 does deliver the derivative goods, but it also stands on its own as a well made, well acted, and truly intense little thriller.
The main difference between this film and Saw is its approach to the subject matter. Saw concentrated heavily on unique ways to be tortured and die and also on its killer's motivations. House goes down a more cerebral path. The emphasis here is on the relationships, or lack thereof, among the folks found in this situation. There are no elaborate traps, and they only have one direct communication between themselves and their, for lack of a better term, host. People have a tendency to fall apart in desperate situations. House's characters are all strong. There are no weaklings. Everyone can and will take care of themselves. The breakdown of their psyche is deliberate and stirring.
The house they're all confined in becomes a character in and of itself. This is no dilapidated building. In fact, the set pieces are meticulously clean and genuinely beautiful. The hallways are tiled and well lit, and the furnishings (even including the wall hangings) reek of the type of decor few of us can afford. This is an interesting setting in contrast to the horrors that are just waiting to take place. Director Steven R. Monroe makes great use of his camera, pulling out just about every stylistic camera move there is. Some of the shots are breathtaking in nature. He employs everything from the traditional horror movie low camera angle to amazing one-take tracking shots. From a technical standpoint one cannot help but be impressed. I predict we're going to be seeing a lot from Monroe. If this is what he can create on a low budget, then I cannot wait to see what he does with a good deal of financial backing.
Everything about this film is above average, especially the acting. Dennis Hopper is as delightfully subdued as he was in the Romero zombie opus, Land of the Dead, and the rest of the cast turn in some A-list quality performances. The writing has a lot to do with that as well. Nobody in the film does anything overtly stupid, and the overall situation is met with gritty realism. The deaths eventually start coming, and when they did, I found myself genuinely surprised by some of our characters' outcomes. There's no flashy twist ending to be had here. Just a look at the deprivation -- and disintegration -- of the human will.
Sadly, other than the theatrical trailer and a few other trailers, there's nothing to be seen here in the way of DVD extras, and that's a crying shame. I'm sure there was lots to talk about, and at the very least a commentary should have been tacked on. Maybe the studio just felt as if no one would pay attention to this film given its similarities to Saw and that's why they skimped on the features. Speculation will get us nowhere, but either way, it's a bit depressing that this film didn't get a better home video treatment.
House of 9 does what it sets out to do, and that's to deliver to its viewers a movie that sucks you in until you cannot breathe. While it may be dismissed by some as a knock-off, anyone that watches it will be impressed with how much was done with so little, and some may even find it better than its bigger budget cousins.
Discuss House of 9 in our forums!