There is an inherent feeling of sadness that seems to sit over most if not all of David Mun’s House Of Good And Evil that gives it a certain weight. I’m often frustrated with films that demand you feel a certain way without giving you the reasons to up on screen. I could rattle off example after example but the bottom line is the job of the film is to elicit the feeling, not the job of the viewer to cultivate the feeling from thin air. Thankfully, this film doesn’t do that and instead presents a relatively simple, sad setup at the onset and sets about the task of unraveling that setup bit by bit to a dynamic and interesting conclusion that stuck on me for a few days after watching.
The film focuses on a married couple, Maggie and Chris Conley (Rachel Marie Lewis and Christian Oliver, respectively) who set out to the country to purchase a home and ‘restart’ their lives after a terrible incident involving Maggie’s pregnancy. The visceral feeling of the start of the film (we see them through the windows in their city home arguing and yelling up to the accident and then in the car) is very strong. You feel somewhat like a voyeur watching the whole thing go down but I felt it was the better way to do it. The rage of the argument and incident is kept within their home and it made me feel like I was getting second hand information from a friend about a couple having problems. This inspires a bit of pity and empathy for these people before ever meeting them.
A truly horrifying shot of Maggie in the car after the accident heading to the hospital that night gives way to them driving out to their new home sometime after (days, weeks – unsure) and I have to say, it was a hell of a shift. They arrive, meet the realtor and get the tour. It is very clear Maggie and Chris are on their last legs and are trying to put a good face on things which makes the tour of this home that much more stressful.
The home (at least from my perspective) was not good at all: no phone or cable access, no power (save for a loud gas generator in the shed), warped wood floors, badly fit doors, a locked upstairs room (realtor forgot the key), an outdated and poor kitchen and most surprisingly, the home has been split into two sides with tenants currently living there. The couple are told the renters, the Andersons, have 30 days to move out and are looking at homes in Florida. At this point, my spoken-out-loud reaction was ‘don’t buy it!’ but Chris coaxes Maggie and they sign.
Almost immediately, the stress of it becomes too much (from dealing with the generator to moving stuff in to Chris announcing he has to head out for training for his firefighter position to a flat tire on their truck) and they devolve pretty quickly. There is a temporary respite as they picnic in the living room that first evening but Maggie is quick to lash out at Chris after he chases their shared champagne with a long, drawn flask swig and then sulks off to bed upstairs, Maggie opting to stay in the living room. She suffers a terrible dream and wakes dazed and upset.
Chris then leaves and the focus of the film stays primarily with Maggie as she works on the house, tries to be hospitable to the neighbors (even baking a pie) and struggles through the isolation of this home. Pretty quickly, it seems like something might be going on as she hears funny sounds, voices and even a possible phone ringing from next door. Relaying this information to Chris inspires more arguing and more frustration on Maggie’s part as she is certain these things are going on. Once he leaves for longer, things really start to get strange for Maggie and as it goes we start to question what we’re seeing and what is happening.
Is her husband deliberately screwing with her? Are the neighbors up to something? Is Maggie imagining all of it ? (she is shown taking meds) Did the realtor sell them a haunted house or have something to do with it?
It is hard to latch onto any one possible reason and that is one of the strengths of the film. You don’t immediately come to one answer and are, instead, lead around one incident to another without an idea of what it might be building towards. I thought this was a great storytelling idea and a great way to keep the audience wondering about what is happening.
As the film approaches the final act, the seemingly disconnected aspects of each incident come into focus, the jarring and often unprovoked spikes in hostility followed by sweetness between Chris and Maggie make some level of sense and the film crescendos with what I could lay out but won’t. There are a few films I was vaguely reminded of but I don’t think it does the potential viewers of the film or the film itself any good to lay them all out. It is not merely a derivative of other films, but, well anyway, I’ll leave it at that.
I want to give special mention of the way in which the film is shot – winding around the house, the intimate focus on both Chris and Maggie, the brilliant way the opening of the film is done etc. I really got the feeling the director wanted a look that might not have been easy to pull off with the cameras or equipment used but the execution is very solid and lovely to watch so they absolutely made the most with what they had. Also, Rachel Marie Lewis does a really good job as Maggie – the range of this character felt true and honest. Her highs and lows aren’t handled lightly and I think if we didn’t buy her as both a soft, kind woman and a strong-willed fighter from early on, the entirety of the second half wouldn’t mean a whole lot.
All in all, enjoyable and interesting character study that plays with expectations and delivers a tense story of loss and sadness and coping with the ever present threat of something potentially dark just beneath the surface. To follow the films updates be sure to visit their Facebook page