My notes on the Norwegian horror film Huset, released on US DVD and VOD March 5th. Available in the UK as The Winter Siege.
A Norwegian ghost story set during WWII, this feels a little like a pocket-size version of The Keep – it may be too slight and elliptical to scrape by as an exploitation horror movie, but its atmospherics are impressive and it manages a couple of moments of genuine chill. The old problem of horror films with Nazi protagonists – it’s hard to share their anguish when we’re conditioned to want to see men in these uniforms die in movies – raises its head, and this doesn’t take an easy way out: even the slightly sensitive officer who prefers Disney to Leni Riefenstahl is a Nazi rather than a humanitarian who happens to have ended up in uniform, and the victims here are tormented by the supernatural because ordinary everyday guilt isn’t doing the job of punishing them properly.
With the sort of economy necessary in the low-budget arena, and something of the feel of those Roger Corman-Monte Hellman ski pictures, three characters glumly trudge through widescreen snow and come to a house where there’s food on the stove, Churchill on the wireless and an illegal Norwegian flag flying. SS officer Kreiner (Mats Reinhart) and paratrooper Fleiss (Frederik von Luttichau) are trying to make a rendezvous with a rescue party, but – uh-oh – the map and the compass contradict the sun and they’re lost. With them is wounded Norwegian prisoner Rune (Sondre Krogtoft Larsen), who is warily helpful – though he has good cause to hate the occupying forces. In the house, the trio find mysterious symbols, a guest book filled with unfinished horror stories that begin with unwary folks finding the house, phantasms from their own past, a lot of crosses, and glimpses of the place’s history.
After an uneasy night, the soldiers strike out again and – uh-oh again – find themselves back where they started, even reliving the same events as the house gives them a hard time. Director Reinert Kiil, who co-eote with Jan Helge Lillevik, went on to the more conventional slasher film Juleblod (Christmas Blood), but here goes all-out for mood over plot. It even has a Lovecraftian nonsense-gabbling voice from the beyond do an imitation of Churchill. It’s sparse and austere, well-acted within its register of fear and suppressed hysteria, and admirably still annoyed about World War II, with one character calling down the wrath of the beyond by burning that Norwegian flag (which gets better) and a few strikingly well-scripted thoughts on fascism. ‘Do you think we’ll win?’ asks the younger Nazi. ‘We’ve already won,’ says Kreiner, ‘we’ve changed the world.’
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