Fresh this week from IFC Midnight in association with The Darkside and Fat Cigar Productions brings us House on Willow Street, a solid horror thriller written by Catherine Blackman, Jonathan Jordaan, and Alistair Orr. Orr, who also directed the 2014 indie film Indigenous, once again steps into the director’s chair and it’s easy to see from frame one that he’s grown much more comfortable and self assured in the role.
As the film opens, Hazel (Sharni Vinson), Ade (Steven John Ward), Mark (Zino Ventura), and James (Gustav Gerdener) are finalizing plans to kidnap the daughter of a wealthy man whom they all believe has wronged them in some way. They zero in on Katherine (Carlyn Burchell) and the planned kidnapping seemingly goes off without a hitch despite the strange symbols carved into the home’s walls and the fact that Katherine looks like she might have been finishing a week long bender when they show up to take her.
The crew takes Katherine back to their hideout and records a video demanding a ransom in priceless diamonds from the girl’s parents. Up until this point, everything seems fit to fall into your average kidnap film and one could almost anticipate Liam Neeson’s voice answering Hazel as she makes the ransom call. But this isn’t your typical kidnapping film, and Neeson is not about to kick ass and save the day.
On the contrary, the crew begins to notice there is something very strange about Katherine. She stares just a little too long at her captors; she has an almost feral quality to her, and knows just a little too much about her kidnappers. In fact, it isn’t long before they realize that Katherine’s a woman with a ton of demonic baggage she’s about to unpack all over them.
No spoilers here, but what follows is a masterful attempt at melding two sub-genres (kidnapping/crime and possession) into something altogether unique. And I have to tell you, under Orr’s direction and with solid performances by the actors, they almost universally succeed. In fact, Orr, Blackman, and Jordaan, managed to tell a story about the heavy toll that grief and loss take on the body and spirit of those in their clutches.
The remarkably small cast (only five actors are credited on IMDb) works as a solid unit throughout. Ventura and Gerdener attack their roles with sadistic gusto. These guys have no problem kidnapping this girl and they don’t mind hurting her if necessary to get what they want. Meanwhile, Vinson and particularly Ward play out their character’s humanity. They didn’t want to do this, but they saw no other way to make Katherine’s father pay for what he’d done. It gives the crew a nicely balanced effect without giving over to the cliche’s their characters could have been.
But there’s no denying that in a possession film, the person possessed always takes the lead and Burchell’s Katherine is the center of every scene. Possessed Katherine radiates menace and power in stark contrast with the vulnerable Katherine we see in videos leading up to her possession. Burchell plays both with a steady hand and never lets her performance become less than real.
Overall, House on Willow Street, is a fun and genuinely scary film that, like the best horror, pushes the audience to look deeper into themselves. As the lines blur between villain and victim, captor and captured, I found myself asking who was the real bad guy here? Who should I be rooting for? Those answers, as in real life, aren’t clear cut, and Orr and his cast do their level best to remind us that when the chips are down, black and white are rarely present and it’s all too often in the shades of grey that we find ourselves.
House on Willow Creek releases on VOD and select streaming services this Friday, March 24, 2017. Make sure to check it out!