15th Aug2017

‘House On Elm Lake’ Review

by Nik Holman

Stars: Becca Hirani, Andrew Hollingworth, Faye Goodwin, Lorena Andrea, Tara MacGowran, Oliver Ebsworth, Tony Manders, Kate Lush | Written by Shannon Holiday | Directed by James Klass

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House on Elm Lake opens with a terrified mother and young son bound and gagged while their knife-wielding patriarch paces and rants. The terror and confusion beams across loud and clear. Whatever is wrong with the husband, no amount of pleading from his wife or his child will change their fate. The scene is tense, the scene is harrowing, and because this is a horror movie, the scene is full of stabbing. Cut to years later and a new family, Haley, Eric, and their daughter Penny, movie into the quaint, lakeside home.

What the script lacks in originality, it certainly makes up for in competent scares. The haunted house genre may be well-worn territory, but it’s been a horror staple over several decades for a good reason. Everyone knows the feeling of moving into a new place, the uncertainty of where everything is, where your boundaries are. Anyone can understand the loneliness of being in a new town, alone, with nobody to rely on. Haunted house horror doesn’t need a giant CGI monster in some over-blown third act. It only needs a strong sense of dread and a few screaming ghosts along the way.

House on Elm Lake was shot on a razor thin budget but that has zero impact on Shannon Holiday’s solid story. A strong script knows how to work within its limitations. The fear is subtle in most places, jarring in others, and never ridiculous. I found myself invested in the story, not because of any special effects, but because the good writing and believable acting made me care about the characters and the terror they were dealing with. The story never beats you over the head with information. The movie feeds you little hints of witchcraft and devil worship without diving into a full-blown flashback or longwinded exposition. That’s great. Let me figure things out for myself. I appreciate a movie that doesn’t treat me like an idiot.

However, the film isn’t perfect. There are some highly questionable casting choices that insisted I suspend belief for the story’s sake. I also found the image of a chubby, naked, middle-aged man screaming through a house, straddling young women, off-putting…or hilarious…mostly off-putting. The film also treads dangerously close to The Amityville Horror. Eric’s descent into madness led by the ghosts/demons of the house is very similar to George Lutz. At one point the bedroom door slams shut as a demonic voice shouts, “Get Out!” I had to laugh at the unintentional(?) reference. Mix in a dash of Rosemary’s Baby and that’s my only real complaint; that a good movie barrows elements from two other good movies. If that’s the worst I can write about, this is a solid flick.

While he might be a little rough around the edges, James Klass shows some real talent as a director. I would be very interested to see what he is capable of with more money and experience. I had fun watching House on Elm Lake and while bigger budgeted and not nearly as good horror flicks are sucking up all the air at the moment, don’t let this little gem slip by.

House on Elm Lake is released on DVD on September 11th, courtesy of Left Films.

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