These aren’t the ghosts you’re looking for.
Ghost stories and grief go together like chocolate and peanut butter in that they’re each enhanced by the other. Okay, that doesn’t exactly work in both directions, but ghost stories are definitely enhanced when the living are dealing with grief and loss as a haunting offers a connection to the afterlife. Our House understands that, and while it doesn’t do anything new or striking with the concept the film delivers a competent and confident look at how blind hope can overlook real dangers before us.
Ethan (Thomas Mann) is a college student on the verge of an electronic breakthrough. Along with a couple friends, he’s close to developing a machine that generates wireless electricity, but their experiments never quite bring them close enough. When his parents die in a car accident Ethan leaves college behind in order to take care of his younger siblings, Matt (Percy Hynes White) and Becca (Kate Moyer). He continues his lab work on the side, but while he appears to make no progress the machine has accomplished something. Becca begins having conversations with mom under her bed, Matt sees vague shapes in the shadows, and objects move on their own.
Then Mom tells Becca that the signal has to be stronger if they want her and Dad to fully appear. Why would a ghost lie, right?
Director Anthony Scott Burns‘ feature debut, written by Nathan Parker (Moon, 2009), is filled with familiar beats and turns, but it finds strength in the time spent with its characters before the spectral mayhem begins. The cast does compelling work and convinces as a family both before and after the tragedy. Mann balances Ethan’s grief and feelings of helplessness with the realization that he has to be there for his brother and sister, and that in turn takes a toll on his sense of what’s best. He wants to believe, and he digs a dangerous hole for them all before realizing his mistake.
Burns has another feature (Come True) in post-production, but his previous calling card is the spectacularly atmospheric and dread-inducing short “Father’s Day” from 2016’s horror anthology Holidays. It’s a tense jaw-dropper of a mood piece, and he carries some of that sensibility over to this film’s quieter moments. Our need for family is intense, especially during our younger years, and that drive compels the siblings forward without caution into a world beyond their understanding.
The film eventually shifts gears into detective mode as the horrors ramp up, and it’s here where things feel most familiar. Moving objects and smoky forms fill the screen as conversations and research reveal sinister truths long forgotten. Burns makes it work, but from the ghostly design to the eventual reveals there’s little fresh or new here to raise it above dozens of similar tales. Instead it’s his cast that do much of the heavy lifting through their performances and chemistry.
White and Moyer are solid child actors with White in particular delivering a compelling turn as a pre-teen strong in his anger over his parents’ death but weak in the face of real fear. Nicola Peltz and Robert B. Kennedy do good work too as Ethan’s girlfriend Hannah and the family’s neighbor Tom, respectively.
Our House is a perfectly okay little chiller that never quite becomes more than that. Give it a spin, and then seek out “Father’s Day” immediately.