21st Jan2015

‘The Scarehouse’ Review

by Stuart Wright

Stars: Sarah Booth, Kimberly-Sue Murray, Katherine Barrell, Jennifer Miller, Teagan Vincze, Emily Alatalo, Dani Barker, Ivana Stojanovic, Brad Everett, Jack Ettlinger, Alex Harrouch, Jonathan Dubsky, Sean Kaufmann, Tanya Bevan, Scott Cavalheiro | Written and Directed by Gavin Michael Booth


The Scarehouse is a solid contained horror film mixed with found footage when away from the main location. Production values are good and performances are commendable when it comes to the “why are you doing this to me?” scenes. Most impressive of all is Jennifer Miller (as sorority sister – Lisa Jenning). She can certainly throw a punch or two and proves to be an ongoing thorn in the side of our anti-heroes Corey and Elaina.

The movie opens up with handheld footage of a group of loud-mouthed, college sorority sisters dressed in their underwear getting ready for a night of initiation with their two newbies. None of these people prove themselves to be likeable. They verbally abuse one another and… that’s about it. It’s too crass and stupid to be satire a la Mean Girls (2004)/Heathers (1988) and it isn’t titillating enough to be exploitative. This is spliced together with the final preparations of a haunted house run by two angry young women: Corey and Elaina. You see The Scarehouse is a story of revenge, but for what we are yet to find out. Via a monitor screen showing the street and labelled ‘Slut Cam’ we welcome lone women who believe they’re going to an exclusive party. Eventually we learn that each of them is one of the sorority sisters from the found footage, but why? Simple. Corey and Elaina’s plan is to try to scare and/or bully them into revealing the truth about a tragic event that happened two years previously. But what event?

Over the duration of the film it becomes clearer. The two very different narratives – inside the scarehouse and the sorority sisters handycam – cross paths and reveal a dark secret that unifies them. It’s a neat storytelling device and one that rewards the viewer when you realise C & E are part of the found footage and were the wannabe sorority sisters en route to performing an initiation that goes horribly wrong. Turns out there’s no loyalty amongst these self-styled bitches and Corey and Elaina were sacrificed for the good of the sorority – two years in prison later and they’re out looking for answers as to why their sorority sisters allowed them to take the blame. Why set up fully functioning haunted house to get back at them is never explained. Surely there are more efficient ways of doing, but maybe that’s missing the point.

As anti-heroes neither Corey nor Elaina are not complex enough to be the psychotic killers they purport to be. They’re a far cry from Princess (Loved Ones, 2009). Sure it’s a bummer to go to prison for an accident, but they were dumb enough to perpetrate the initiation as instructed by the sorority. It’s not like they were framed. It’s here that it feels like Booth missed a trick by not exploring their real madness. If it had touched more on Corey and Elaina’s own stupidity for wanting to join the sorority then it could have been an exercise in how one simple mistake in life could drive you mad enough to kill. Instead, we have a queue of young women arriving one at a time and some of them prove more difficult than the others to get truth out of and/or kill. Equally, what we learn about the sorority sisters themselves is hardly enough to make you empathise with Corey and Elaina’s mission.

Hardened gorehounds are going to be disappointed by most of the deaths. Seems Gavin Michael Booth (director) doesn’t want the camera to look at, let alone linger on much of the torture. Although slipping out one girl’s breast implants was where Booth got the balance right between the shock of the act and what we get to see (and maybe able to claim an onscreen cruelty first here too). Nor is there any gratuitous nudity on show. Plenty of promise during sorority house segments in act one, but again Booth holds bacl – not sure that with a core cast of eight college women if that’s subverting audience expectations or it’s missed opportunity.

Nevertheless, the conclusion is dark and fulfilling. There’s some interesting, if not simple, plot-twists and, with the aid of the soundtrack the finale goes – emotionally at least – somewhere very different from the rest of the movie before it. The Scarehouse shows plenty of potential, it just gets caught in the middle of: not being cruel and nasty enough to be a visceral experience; and not being cerebral enough to be a biting satire on the ridiculousness of sorority house initiations at US colleges.

The Scarehouse is out now on VOD / iTunes / other digital platforms, courtesy of NBC/Universal.


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