Thirty minutes or so into this agreeable, highly watchable psychological thriller by the Keeling Brothers and you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve wandered into another tame, rather sluggish haunted house movie. You might even think it’s some forgotten TV movie from the early 1980s, such is its bloodlessness and the anodyne nature of its rather low-key scares. But stick with it, kids, for in time The House on Pine Street becomes an oddly absorbing and compelling drama which has more up its sleeve than crude shock tactics, albeit ultimately driven by one impressively confident and intense performance.
Expectant couple Jennifer (Emily Goss) and Luke (Taylor Bottles) escape from the Chicago rat-race to Jennifer’s hometown in Kansas and, inevitably, they move into a rather creaky old house which soon starts to put the fear of God into Jennifer, who’s plagued by odd sights, sounds and presences all around the house. Already worried at the prospect of childbirth, Jennifer, stifled and unsupported by her overbearing mother, is forced to question her own sanity when everyone around her, even the town’s resident kindly psychic, pours scorn on her claims of supernatural activity in her new home.
The House on Pine Street, already an award winner at the Kansas International Film festival and the New Orleans Horror Film Festival, is a refreshingly unshowy and gimmick-free horror film (and it’s arguable that it’s not really a horror film at all). It mercifully avoids all the lazy jump-scares which damn and demean many of today’s genre films, and spends time building up its story and developing Jennifer as a fragile, disturbed woman teetering on the edge of sanity. This is Emily Goss’s movie; she’s genuinely terrific and she utterly inhabits her character, delivering an intricately-nuanced and expressive performance which makes Jennifer far more four-square and believable than the vacuous screaming teens and bimbos who normally inhabit cheap horror knock-offs.
Kickstarter-funded, The House on Pine Street is a striking calling card for the Keeling Brothers (whose childhood in a purportedly haunted house acted as the springboard for the whole movie) who have delivered a well-made and individual movie which brings something new to what seems like an achingly-familiar genre staple. There are no buckets of blood here, no demented supernatural entities lurching out of the shadows, no terrifying creatures slicing and dicing and tearing shrieking victims to shreds. This is an unhurried piece – perhaps a tad overlong for its story at nearly two hours – which will nevertheless hold your attention precisely because it’s not what you’re expecting and is a welcome throwback to the days when ‘horror’ films had to work a bit harder at unnerving their audiences. It’s an impressive, if not especially unsettling, experience and proof that it’s still possible for a horror movie to be creepy and not crass.
THE HOUSE ON PINE STREET / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: AARON KEELING, AUSTIN KEELING / SCREENPLAY: NATALIE JONES, AARON KEELING, AUSTIN KEELING / STARRING: EMILY GOSS, TAYLOR BOTTLES, CATHY BARNETT, JIM KORNIKE / RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 1ST