Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Burnt House (2009)

This relationship is destined to burn

Megan and Joe are going through a rough patch in their marriage after their baby accidentally died. Joe carries blame and Megan seeks comfort with another guy named James. Suddenly Joe's mother dies and he suggests they both go out to the house he grew up with in rural Pennsylvania to get away from distractions and start anew their relationship from life in New York City. From then on out the story comes to a slow, dragging, give-me-something-more-for-my-time halt as they figure out what they're doing there except without actually doing much of anything substantial apart from everyday ordeals.

The atmosphere is drab and the storytelling is dismal as you watch the characters loosely go about their tedious habits and then fight and make up over and over again for the course of four long and enduring days that make it feel like months on end or as if time itself is going backwards. Don't we have our own issues to worry about in real life already instead of watching something else unexceptional? There's apparently a curse in the area that makes the husbands homicidal maniacs that go after their family like something out of "The Amityville Horror." Except, the picture hints it's been following around Joe's lineage since his great grandfather but not actually what caused it or what it is exactly that leads them to violence. In between their squabbles, the characters hear some random noises and get nightmares. There are also abrupt cuts to horrific visuals with a burnt face that are strategically placed enough times to feel like signature commercial break montages that you can count on instead of being more frightening. At times they're revealed for the audience's eyes only instead of establishing more foreshadowing with the characters that would grow and be a challenging puzzle to unlock.

"The Burnt House" is a lonely and depressing experience, they got that part down, but it still doesn't turn that around to feel like an engaging diversion since it retreads and goes in mundane circles. Nor does it give something to take away from the experience such as "Downloading Nancy" did for the complex and deep rooted ruination of a relationship that gave progressive stages albeit about a degradative subject. This also isn't "Antichrist" with a couple in the woods trying to figure out their problems from a child dying with enough enigmas to keep the audience intrigued and engaged for unsaid answers that can bring one back again. Not to mention there are periodic narration pieces by Joe placed in to concisely explain the past and present but it seems strange that whenever he speaks to his wife out loud he can't solve the problems at hand. It makes you think it was more a filmmaking shortcut than actually matching the personality of the character. Eventually Megan gets bored and searches the attic for the house's shadowy history, while Joe goes off to who knows where and is getting suspicious of James who is leaving messages on Megan's phone. Instead of getting better, everything is boiling over as Joe is starting to act stranger and stranger and more and more distant from the problems at hand or something else.

If there's any chemistry between the two, it feels more like brother and sister than a former romantic couple. It's as if they ran out of things to say or do together to the point of running the well dry. Why they're together or what they saw in each other to hold on like this, who knows? Not to mention they're literally two of the most average and uneventful people you'd meet since they have no ambitions or other angles to themselves besides the 3 Cs: complaining, cigarettes and a cell phone. The kind that you've met countless times at barbecues and parties and forgot them as soon as you walked away. The main actress Monica Knight does a decent job for what little she's given by acting natural and not as if she's taking someone else's direction or reading someone else's lines like so many do on these little stepping stone projects. J.D. Brown, playing Joe, feels boring and miserable. He delivers his dialogue in such a stale, passionless way as to lose the command of the audience. Maybe that was the point, but then I'd have to ask to what point? He's like an unlikable Silent Bob in the way he slouches around and constantly smokes like a chimney, except when he speaks doesn't carry the charisma to be mysterious, cool or important between the wait from puffs.

Apart from being a drama about a couple on thin ice, this is essentially a haunted area/house film that carries a curse, but the latter is so elusive and buried by other aspects as to lose focus and become confusing for something so simplistic at heart. "The Burnt House," for lack of a large budget, tries to be abstract and stylish. Though with all of the excessive areas of attempted innovation, the film loses a driving point and it ends up bogging down the pacing to the point of feeling excessively tiresome. Even with the melodrama and supernatural events in the midst it fails to keep the audience concerned. The beginning, with its slow and sad montages mixed with kill-yourself-now piano pieces, can't stand still long enough to feel like a film but instead a sampled preview. It's almost like a cologne commercial for the manic depressive consumer. There was also an over-the-top gore scene that was shocking for the first couple of seconds but then went on to make itself desensitizing. There was potential here at its inception and I can see where it was going by doing something heavily moody and different from the same ol', but very little worked towards the filmmaker's benefit and this ambitious project ended up being far worse than a formulaic, run-of-the-mill horror movie that it was distancing itself from. It was a risk because you couldn't have done this halfway, with the final result either being brilliant or falling flat and looking a fluke. This just happened to be the latter.

Rating: 1.5/10

Director: Adam Ahlbrandt (Sight)
Stars: J.D. Brown, Monica Knight
Link: IMDB

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