Possibly Norway’s first haunted house movie, The House has many things laid before its feet and picks some of them up.
After having directed music videos, shorts, underground cult films and worked as a prop guy on mainstream movies and TV, Reinert Kiil has now “grown up” with his first theatrical directorial feature, the ghost thriller The House. Written by Kiil and Jan Helge Lillevik, the movie is about three soldiers in occupied Norway during WW2; two German soldiers and a Norwegian prisoner are caught in too much snow, but luckily they find an empty house to take shelter in. The house turns out to be anything but safe, and something is definitely not as it should be. The trio tries to cope with things they see, think they see and hear, while going more or less insane. The senior German officer tries to keep things together, but he is also affected.
Even though The House is shown in 70 theatres across Norway, it is still a low budget movie from an underground director. Have no expectations about armies of Nazi soldiers, exploding tanks and pea soup bursting out of possessed little girls. The House is a small, low key ghost movie focusing on characters and their perceptions and mental (in)stabilities. While the latter is a solid Scandinavian tradition, here it is taken into a new context of a haunted house during war, which opens up a few interesting possibilities. Does the film use everything that is laid before its feet? The closed space, the special ramifications of war, the freezing winter, the backstory of the exorcised girl, the ambiguous emotions of soldiers.
No, not all of it. And yes, but in a somewhat overcooked way.
Reinert Kiil knows a lot about movies, and I am sure he knows a lot about making movies too. His high ambitions are clearly on display. However, the execution of The House is ultimately too weak when taking aim at the classic scary house genre. You have seen it all before, and even though the story is solid, it’s also a bit covered in dust. Just like old houses. Doors slam, the radio mysteriously switches itself on, and something or someone is hiding in a closet. It’s dark and cold outside so you can’t leave the house easily. Those two things are the main carriers of the movie, and two is too little. Events repeat, and things start to loose plausibility quite fast. It’s difficult to buy why the trio can’t make their way from the house; there’s no storm outside, and any farm, even forest farms in the 1940s, had roads or paths leading to them. What I do buy is that stressed soldiers are easy targets for ghosts, and if I only have to pay one dollar I also buy that when you chase a ghost, you point your gun at it, even though it won’t help. The overall premise in the movie is not completely wrong, but the ways and solutions and the levels are not enough.
There are other annoying things; did German soldiers really speak English well in the 40s? Maybe. Maybe not. The movie is also very dark; it takes place mostly at night, and even though there seem to be plenty of lamps inside the house, most rooms are darkly lit, to the extent that you sometimes almost can’t see anything. The Norwegian character is surprisingly poorly written. We know almost nothing about him. Are we supposed to root for him just because he’s a Norwegian prisoner? On the other hand, the two German soldiers are more fleshed out. Most Nazi soldiers were probably not entirely bad, such as Jurgen Kreiner and Andreas Fleiss here. They’re real people, and they’re the part of the script that isn’t cracking up. This is more mature film-making than one perhaps expects from sleaze director Kiil, and something that fits the movie better than pure evil Nazi machines.
The flaw that really disturbs my enjoyment is the constant over-use of “scary” music. The music is quite good on its own, but the problem is that the score tells when you’re supposed to feel fear and anticipation, in stead of supporting a notion already placed in you by images, acting, plot and build-up. You are always told a few seconds in advance that something scary is going to happen. It could be a shadow in the corner or a pot of stew on the stove. Nothing that would scare soldiers, or a kid, unless you have loud scary music. Add quite a few jumpscares to this and you have a tedious roster of effects.
Perhaps I just don’t like slower, spooky, atmospheric movies then. No, I love The Shining and The Changeling, and enjoy Lake of the Dead any day, to keep it Norwegian. Kiil has included many right things in his movie, such as not showing the ghost too much, and keeping the story within a closed location. The mix of Nazis, ghosts and demons is tantalizing, and quite original in a Norwegian context. I also like that 98% of the dialogue is in German. A few words is uttered in Norwegian and English, but don’t let all the German scare you (haha!) – it adds much needed credibility.
The House is definitely by the book, but sometimes the book was not better than the movie.
Rated 4 of 10.
Directed by Reinert Kiil.