Set in the frozen wilderness of Norway during WWII, 2 German soldiers escort a Norwegian soldier and prisoner of war but the weather is taking a toll on them. They find an empty house near the forest where they finally can get some rest. However, what seems to be a warm and welcoming shelter turns much more sinister and deadly. They begin to wonder if they have somehow have stepped into a sort of psychological hell from which there may be no escape.
Artsploitation Films is steadily becoming one of my favourite distribution companies when it comes to horror films; sharing time and time again foreign language titles that both titillate and terrify. North American viewers often miss out on exceptional horror titles from some of the world’s greatest story tellers due to a lack of exposure and their strange contempt for subtitles. Many of my favourite horror films (and arguably the best) have come from the minds of foreign directors, producers, and writers. The House fits the above-mentioned instance perfectly.
The film opens with a small group of soldiers, two German and one Norwegian captive, lost in a snowy Norwegian wilderness. With their compass questionable and their bearings muddled, they take shelter in a secluded house seemingly abandoned by its last inhabitants. What our gang of tired and travel-weary soldiers don’t know is that there’s a lot more to the house, and what dwells within, than they realise.
Sound cliqued? I’d argue that it is instead more nuanced. Primarily a haunting film, The House is not quite unique with its stylized setting and tiny cast, but definitely a fresh take on the tried and tested methods of old. The setting and time period, as well as very well-crafted characters, add to the tone and feel of the film; there’s an attitude that of arrogance and macho where one would usually find panic, fear and helplessness in more modern-set films. Our cast—while quite obviously haunted—drink, smoke, and heil Hitler while discussing the supernatural rather philosophically. They reflect upon their haunting, talking about the whos, whats, whys, and hows rather than grabbing the nearest crucifix and crying out to Christ—retaining far more composure than I’d ever be able to.
The film manages to maintain a healthy balance between tension and terror without relying solely on audio cues and jump scares, though the few that are scattered throughout do a job of keeping you on the edge of your seat. The cinematography was a little too dark for my liking as I hate struggling to make out what’s happening, but that is probably my only gripe, which says a lot as I’m pretty gripey.
If one is willing to look beneath the surface of the premise of the haunting and the obvious good and evil that comes hand-in-hand with any Nazi-themed film, we find director Reinert Kiil humanizing the characters in a somewhat unexpected manner. The way in which the soldiers reflect upon their deeds, how they whisper about the rumours surrounding the concentration camps and “the gas,” and how one attempts to justify while the other is merely contemptuously duty-bound, makes for great food-for-thought. We learn that there is more than one kind of evil; the evil of blindly following orders, the evil of doing nothing when wrong is done before you, to the evil of man in general. Perhaps it is the understadning of their own evils that keeps them so calm in the face of the supernatural. Saying anything more would be giving too much away, so I’ll stop reflecting.
Truth be told, I figured out the twist long before the end, but that did not detract from what was, in essence, a great film. I enjoyed it all from start to finish and would recommend it to anyone looking for a good haunting horror, especially so if you like war-themed films. Thanks for reading and as always, stay sordid. Poster and trailer below.
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