Review: “House of Sand and Fog”

Not that long ago the award-winning novel “The Shipping News” was turned into an Xmas-release movie designed purely to try and nab Oscars. In the end however, the depressing tale ended up being a soggy melodrama filled with good performances but an all too bleak and uninteresting narrative highlighted by moments of shock brutality. “Fog” is this year’s equivalent of that – a film which if you aren’t a manic depressive, by the end you will have become one. Its one of those movies which makes you wonder why in the hell someone would take the time make something like this.

The answer to that question is unsure, Connelly seems to have an affinity for these tales though such as the equally downbeat but far more interesting and deep drug drama “Requiem for a Dream”. Both she and co-star Ben Kingsley do deliver superb and believable performances which are quite intriguing but not enough to really grab our interest until the end. The scenario it sets up has potential but it never develops it much beyond a teary eyed Connelly longingly looking into the distance or Kingsley counting his pennies at a pump station. As someone like me who continues to deal with the difficulties that accompany chronic depression, one has to shake one’s head at just how downtrodden these people seem to be.

The film’s better moments come from Kingsley’s family interaction with the actors playing his wife and son doing great jobs in their storyline about the family’s fall from grace in Iran and their struggle to adapt to living in America. Connelly on the other hand just has to deal with a cop (Ron Eldard) which isn’t helped by the fact the two have zero chemistry and she easily outshines him at every turn – thus her ’cause’ isn’t particularly compelling and as she was dumb enough to lose the house in the first place you find yourself sympathising far more with Kingsley’s family from early on.

The initial setup about how the house is lost is a bit of a stretch but it deals with the problem of the feuding parties quite well and believably… at first. As we head into the last act, things change from the all too subtle and uninteresting to almost over the top theatrics which whilst shocking, completely undermines the film’s credibility. The film may have been a meandering and all too solemn piece in its first two-thirds or so but at least it felt real – the last 40 minutes do keep you awake but in that way that’ll have you scratching you head.

Worse still all this madness and tragedy is a fight over a house and a very dilapidated one at that – despite their hang-ups this movie portrays its characters initially as intelligent and reasonable people which is why it makes the end all that much more unbelievable. Director Vadim Perelman tries to add character with beauty shots of fog and the ocean but whilst the imagery looks good the pacing is just a mess. People will remember this for its moments of shock brutality and darkness, but to get to them you have to wade through one of the most draining and just plain downbeat movies you’ll ever see in your life. Unless you get off on that sort of thing, it’s seriously not worth putting yourself through the pain.