Toronto After Dark 2016 Review: FROM A HOUSE ON WILLOW STREET Frustrates As It Keeps Its Distance
Too bad Alastair Orr’s FROM A HOUSE ON WILLOW STREET never allows you to get scared.
Four kidnappers get more than they bargained for when they kidnap Katherine, the daughter of a diamond broker. They take her to an abandoned factory and prepare to hold her for a ransom. However, trouble starts brewing when they cannot locate her parents and make their demands. As the crew uncovers the truth about their victim, they realize that they are no longer the most dangerous people in the building.
There is a lot to like about From a House on Willow Street. It is a handsome film. The production design is pretty good. I was concerned that everyone in the cast had flashlights surgically stitched to their hands. (Seriously, I hope they got sponsored for using someone’s flashlights. All. The time.) But flashlight beams have always been a staple of the horror genre, as they draw your focus to a singular point in the room so that the creatures can sneak up on you easier. So when the abandoned factory is lit and bathed with warm colors, the stark beam of a flashlight feels intrusive as it cuts through the scene.
Seriously though, Parliament called, and they said that there is probably too much flashlight in this movie.
The creature and ghost effects are good as well. Some of the digital effects do not blend in so well at the end but credit is due to the makeup effects crew for some really good work otherwise. Another group that should get kudos as well are the sound designers. At times the film is perfectly quiet and that helps build that tension and other times it is obtrusively loud. If you are planning to kidnap someone and hold them for ransom then learn this important bit of advice from this film. Do not attempt to kidnap a family that lives in a centuries old house. Every step echoes. Every door creaks. If the setup in this story was not what it was you would wonder how that family did not hear the intruders coming through the house the moment they stepped through the open front door (always a bad sign). So, artistically there is very little to find fault in with Willow Street.
From a House on Willow Street starts off a bit rough. The opening dialogue between the four kidnappers is so riddled with cliches that for a moment it is all this quartet do, as if it is an inside joke that they have, where they try to one up each other. It was so bad that a long-time peer that I was sitting with got up and left. Done. We were only a few minutes into the film and they had had enough. It is hard to follow up a tough day at the office with mundane and uninteresting conversation on screen. Thankfully that settles down a bit. It did not get worse, but it did not get necessarily better.
We understand that with a lot of horror films that there should be a certain allowance given to them. A level of forgiveness if you will. However, the one thing that we cannot forgive, not even seventy-seven times, is the editing. The editing in this film kills every scare, moment of tension or energy buildup. It kills them so completely that it borders on being an astounding blunder. Just as the audience has that moment to connect with or react to what is on the screen it cuts to something mundane and boring, spends a few moment meandering about, then goes right back to the latter scene. It is as if someone sat on the switcher then realized their mistake and switched back. The editing of this film completely erases any and all effectiveness of the story’s build-up, momentum or jump scares.
The story is comfortable and safe, never taking any chances or considers anything daring. As stated before Katherine’s origin story is the only interesting part out of it. But neither side of the coin is something that you particularly empathize with. You most certainly should not empathize with kidnappers. Because they’re kidnappers! Neither do you really empathize with Katherine as the story goes because you realize what she has become. There’s no one really to side with in this one, creating yet again another emotional gap between the audience and the film.
Ultimately From a House on Willow Street becomes an increasingly frustrating and predictable experience. It suffers from the editing which never allows and momentum or energy to sweep up its audience. It diminishes the scares, predictable and safe as they may be, and diverts attention away from the action into the mundane.
Even just holding on to those scenes for a beat or two longer may have improved the scary experience the filmmakers were hoping for but never quite achieve.
From a House on Willow Street
- Alastair Orr
- Catherine Blackman
- Jonathan Jordaan
- Alastair Orr
- Carlyn Burchell
- Zino Ventura
- Sharni Vinson
- Steven John Ward