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November 28, 2010

Movie Review: The Wrong House (2010)

The selling points of this movie are, in order: It was made in Maine and it was self-financed, as proudly displayed across the back of the DVD slipcase. When I see those two things, though, I just cringe. Replace Maine with Illinois and you have just detailed the first quarter of my not-so-brilliant film career. I shuddered as I placed the disc in the player knowing full well what I was getting myself into. Perusing the box even further, I notice that one of our bad guy villains is also the writer/director, Shawn French. Tickle me pink, what a surprise! We all know just how effective writer/director/stars are, especially in the schlock horror world, and this should be a treat. A retina-destroying, ear bleeding treat… but a treat nonetheless. Little did I know how right I was about The Wrong House.

Buy The Wrong House on DVD!

I would say in a nutshell, but we’re in Maine, the home of Stephen King and unofficial land of creepy, so in syrup bottle our story details the exploits of five twenty-something youths. These youths… wait. I want to talk about casting here for a moment. I know you’ve read where I rail against Hollywood pictures for casting the most beautiful people on the planet, right? Film after film churned out by the H-Wood machine have supermodels playing every character. I am about to be a hypocrite here, but The Wrong House went overboard in the opposite direction. The actors in this film are far too normal. Normal acne, normal bad haircuts, normal weight issues, normal man boobs, normal clothes, etc. We’re talking Wal-Mart normal, all right? There was no sense of style in The Wrong House. Granted, this is a directorial, and performance, debut for most of the cast and the director, but that doesn’t change the fact that they have probably seen thousands of movies. That’s how we’re supposed to learn, by imitation, but one will need to be paying attention for that to work. I digress. These twenty-somethings break into, wait for it, the wrong house, steal some things and are then hunted down in excruciatingly long and drawn out detail until only a couple of they twenty-somethings remain. The end.

That’s the big issue here and it goes right to the heart of not paying attention. In order for an audience to feel a closeness to a character in a horror film, for them to feel as if that character is just like them and is in serious danger (which is what horror is all about) we have to see that they do not make stupid decisions. The most effective horror characters are the ones that make every right decision, but the evil is too great and they get shellacked. This goes beyond karmic retribution or only virgins survive, it is much greater than that. Humans engage in what is called a fundamental attribution error when judging the behavior of others. What that means, is that we overestimate internal factors for behavior and underestimate external factors when judging others. For example, if I saw these dimwits in The Wrong House break into a home for no good reason, I would assume they are punk kids and deserve to be punished. In this case, my fundamental attribution error would be spot on. But, for the sake of argument, let’s suppose that the writer gave them a goal. Let’s say lead girl’s sister needed an operation and they were stealing for her instead of taking money and drugs to use for themselves. That changes things, right? The horror filmmaker has to know how this FAE works, it’s the basis for our sympathetic connection to characters. Without the sympathetic connection to characters we don’t care if they live or die. That isn’t horror. It isn’t scary and, frankly, it’s pretty boring. These characters are punk thieves. They picked the wrong house? Yep, within the narrative even. This is their own fault.

Well. I apologize for that inadvertent lecture on psychology, but I felt the need. I am all for independent horror films. They are my bread and butter, both on this site and off, but I fear for the state of the industry. New filmmakers… pay attention! Instead of pretending to make a movie, find out how a movie works and use it. Do your research! Like what, Dave? Like watching freaking movies critically, analyzing scenes, developing a structure and depth of character. Wanna know the cool part? That’s freaking free! You don’t need a budget to write a killer story that will actually appeal to the target audience. The Wrong House, in that regard, most definitely lived up to its name.

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