A Christian horror film? Well, I suppose every person with access to plenty of money wants in on the spooky genre these days. Unsurprisingly, “House” fails to supply a sufficient level of fright; the picture seems content to wallow in confusion and convention, removing the novelty of faith to roll around in tired terror cliches and dreadful direction.
On their way to a marriage counseling session, bickering couple Jack (Reynaldo Rosales) and Stephanie (Heidi Dippold) find themselves in the backwoods of Alabama, forced to take refuge at the Wayside Inn when car troubles arise. Run by eerie caretakers Betty (Leslie Easterbrook) and Stewart (Bill Moseley), Jack and Stephanie are greeted by another couple (Julie Ann Emery and J.P. Davis), equally as bewildered by the forbidding hotel. As night falls, a demon named Tin Man arrives, boasting that he murdered God and wants another body before dawn. Unable to escape the Wayside, the foursome search the area for weapons to combat Tin Man, soon finding their past sins coming back to haunt them.
Adapted from the novel by Frank E. Peretti and Ted Dekker, “House” is a standard haunted house story tweaked with a metaphor of sin to lend it a specific identity. The film is really no worse than what the Sci-Fi Channel offers on a weekly basis, but director Robby Henson (“Thr3e”) seems to think he’s caught up in the middle of making “The Shining,” doing his best to overcome low-budget limitations, but tripping over his mediocrity at every turn.
Since “House” is ostensibly about the ravages of guilt, the film is more of a psychological thriller than the umpteenth knockoff of “Saw,” but I’m pretty sure nobody told cinematographer Marcin Koszalka this fact. Using the exact same lighting and color scheme as every single horror film these days (it’s reached a point of absurdity), “House” looks absolutely nondescript, diluting any morsel of original haunt that manages to break free from the nonsense. Henson doesn’t help matters with his clumsy staging, taking a few inspired moments of emotional wreckage manipulated by Tin Man and draining them free of suspense through his hokey compositions and trendy editing.
A few bright spots are offered by Easterbrook and Moseley, two pros (together again after the Rob Zombie opuses “The Devil’s Rejects” and “Halloween”) who know how to work a frame and play to genre expectations. The film sinks to amazing depths of stupidity without them.
Even after viewing “House,” I find I’m at a loss to explain the intricacies of the story. I blame a mix of storytelling acceleration and my own growing disinterest. Filled with demonic manifestations, tedious screamy acting, a goofy twist ending, and an appearance by Michael Madsen (at one point clutching a chicken and smirking, natch), “House” is cluttered with ideas it pushes aside to sprint directly to the scares. It’s not a sensible artistic compromise.