It’s almost a given in contemporary genre cinema that any suburban home which is more than twenty years old will have as many secret passageways and hidden torture basements as the average gothic novel chateau. Though it takes a while to pull aside this particular curtain, the low-key Our House – scripted by Nathan Parker (2.22) and Matt Osterman (Hover), directed by Anthony Scott Burns (who has a track record in shorts, including a segment of Holidays) – eventually turns into that sort of movie.
Its long set-up act is slightly more unusual, though it does come along in the middle of a little clutch of horror films driven by studies of grief. College student Ethan Lightman (Thomas Mann), who is tinkering with a device to generate wireless power, has to drop out and return to the family home to take care of his younger siblings Matt (Percy Hynes White) and Becca (Kate Moyer) when his parents are killed in a car crash. The film does well by the uncomfortable set-up, as the barely-out-of-his-teens protagonist has to cope with new responsibilities while getting little thanks from his grieving, simmering kid brother. Setting up his science project in the basement with the help of his girlfriend Hannah (Nicola Peltz), Ethan makes a breakthrough – but not the one he intends.
When turned on, the machine enables paranormal activity – after the manner of the resonator in From Beyond but with more of the ham radio regular science feel of the White Noise films — and the storyline follows a familiar route as the kids are at first charmed by ghostly effects and hope for the reassuring presence of their dead parents only to be terrorised as it turns out the resident spooks are older and angrier and has a mystery backstory which has to be explored along with that hidden dungeon. There are other plot complications – including an at-first helpful neighbour who catches on to the gadget’s potential and wants to co-opt it to summon up his own dead wife – but the story mostly sticks close to the house, where the climax involves a confrontation with a slightly too-familiar, long-nailed, stalking spectre.
NB: this is a semi-remake of Osterman’s Phasma Ex Machina (Ghost From the Machine).