House at the End of the Road, The (Insomnifest 2008)
Reviewed by Morgan Elektra
Starring Mattias Ohlsson, Sandra Thóradóttir, Henrik Danielsson and David Clausson
Directed by Martin Kjellberg & Nils Wåhlin
Four college students head off for a rented cabin in the woods, miles from civilization. It sounds like the set-up to another cheesy slasher movie, if ever I heard one. Okay, granted – these four college kids are art majors (two painters, a photographer, and a sculptor) who are planning the getaway to work on their various projects without distraction… but they still bring an awful lot of beer.
As Jonas, Marcus, Jessica and Stefan drive farther and farther away from the known world, following crappy directions (at a fork in the road, Marcus says they’re supposed to be going straight), and meeting their strange landlady (who doesn’t speak, but laughs in Jessica’s face while handing over the keys to their weekend retreat), you may be thinking to yourself that you know exactly how this one is going to play out. But you’d be wrong.
What starts off as a paint-by-numbers opening that seems like it will lead to a naked Jessica in the shower getting slaughtered after she and Marcus finish screwing quickly veers off course and becomes an atmospheric and unsettling film where nothing is as it seems. From the moment the group pulls up to the house, things are off-kilter, but no one’s quite sure what wrong. They all try and settle in, do some work, drink and dance and have a good time… but they all feel it one way or another, and it affects all of them. As they try and do work, and spend time with friends, stranger and stranger things begin to happen.
Not just noises and barely glimpsed faces, but sinister apparitions, bizarre pronouncements from spooked locals, and strange phrases typed over and over on laptop screens (WE CAN SEE YOU). And while they do react in some sort of cliché ways (personally, if I was there and found a room in the catacomb under the house I was renting where blood appeared to be dripping down the walls… FRESH blood… I would skedaddle, and quickly), they at least have believable reasonings for doing so. And as they explore, we are continually given small pieces to a very large puzzle as we, along with the characters, desperately try and figure out what’s going on.
The strength of The House at the End of the Road is not what we see, but what we don’t see. Directors Kjellberg and Wåhlin excel at giving you just the tiniest glimpse of things and allowing your imagination to get the best (or worst) of you. While I’m sure this is, in part, due to budgetary constraints, it’s also quite clear that they want you to not be sure what’s going on. That way you really understand what the characters are going through. And speaking of the characters, though we don’t get any back story on our group or even that much dialogue during the film’s brief runtime, the acting is all very good and they really convey a sense of normal, real people that can be easily related to.
I am not being intentionally vague about the plot… really, there’s little I could tell you that would make sense if you haven’t seen it… and maybe even if you had. Frankly, if you like the type of film where everything is wrapped up and explained by the time the credits roll, you will most likely hate The House at the End of the Road. Nothing is explained, and everything is open to interpretation. I would compare it to Brad Anderson’s great creepfest Session 9 in that way. Chock full of atmosphere and solid performances, the story teases from beginning to end, and ultimately it’s up to each person to decide what to believe.
The film is so full of shots that are either dark, blurred or quick, you’re never sure what you’re seeing. And though this was clearly a low budget endeavor, that never seems to be the reason for the way the movie is filmed, or to limit its story. Rather, it’s a tactic to keep viewers on the edge of their seat, as unsure of what they’re experiencing as the characters it’s happening to.
Obviously, this is where Kjellberg and Wåhlin were going, as the tagline "You’re the only person that you can’t trust" indicates. Well, I have to say, they achieved their goal with grace, subtlety and not a few creeps. If you’re looking for an action packed, straightforward horror flick that will allow you to turn off your brain while the bodies pile up, this isn’t for you. But if you like more abstract and atmospheric stories that build slowly and play with your mind, you’ll enjoy The House at the End of the Road.
The only complaint I have is that, at only 56 minutes, the runtime is so very brief. I would have liked another 20 or 30 minutes worth of movie and think the story could have used it and still retained its mystery. In the scheme of things, it’s a small complaint though… If subtle mindfucks are your thing, you’ll want to watch The House at the End of the Road. It will get under your skin and make you want to turn on all the lights … just to be sure you can see everything that might be able to see you.
4 out of 5