Monday, October 22, 2012
Gabriel Carrer's IN THE HOUSE OF FLIES: A Brutal Test of Love
In the House of Flies (2012)
Director: Gabriel Carrer
Writer: Angus McLellan
Cast: Lindsay Smith, Ryan Kotack, Henry Rollins
Website: In the House of Flies on Facebook, In the House of Flies on the IMDB
I’ve got an idea to pitch a new reality show similar to The Bachelor to any TV execs who’d listen. Instead of collecting a bunch of narcissistic pretty people and setting them loose in paradise, I’d assign them to find a potential mate in a wretched, dangerous environment. The ultimate test of love occurs not when things are going smoothly, but when couples find themselves in a crisis situation. That’s when true colors are revealed, and people in a relationship discover just how compatible they really are. It’s easy to fawn over that super model you’re making out with in the hot tub at some remote tropical resort. It’s quite another thing if the two of you can share a kiss over a meal of spoiled canned peaches in a bomb shelter while the world around crumbles.
The couple in Gabriel Carrer’s bleak feature, In the House of the Flies, shares a forced intimacy when they are abducted and held captive in a basement in the middle of nowhere. Their devotion to one another is pushed to the brink when their faceless abductor – known only as a voice on the telephone - commands they perform terrible acts in exchange for food and water. The only keys to their survival lie in a number of locked suitcases placed in the room with them, the combinations doled out by the voice if they perform. Whether or not their minds and bodies hold up during the ordeal depends on their willingness to participate in a sadistic game cooked up by their captor.
Director Carrer and screenwriter McLellan take one of the most cliché horror film scenarios – victims locked in a basement and tortured - and weave it into a thought-provoking story with emotional weight. It was a risk that paid off with Carrer’s inventiveness, McLellan’s unflinching screenplay, and the fine performances of the film’s leads, Lindsay Smith and Ryan Kotack. The film is less about the torture, and more about how people can suddenly find their relatively comfortable world turned upside down, and the means by which they adapt to survive.
Within the film, the viewer is confronted by a number of crushing relationship issues couples may face during the course of their partnership. Watching a loved one disintegrate is central to the story, as both our protagonists, Heather and Steven, suffer from malnutrition and near dehydration. The meager provisions provided by the voice is not exactly what you’d call palatable as stale bread, water dripped down the walls, and worse are often the only sustenance provided by the unhinged overseer. Aside from the suitcases, the couple is given a bucket to share between them for waste, and a tiny basement window from which to see the barren surroundings of the dilapidated dwelling. How effectively they utilize these tools will depend on their ability to cooperate with one another and not crack under the threat of their mysterious abductor.
The producers play up to the fact that the film takes place during the 80’s, but it’s really not pertinent to the story. Once we get past a sweet and lively montage during the title sequence, all visual evidence of the decade is removed. The only thing that roots us in that period is a stunning, and I mean stunning, music score by Steve McDougall. He may be using expensive computer software to mimic those great sequencer/synthesizer sounds of the 80s, but it sounds damn fantastic here. It really harkens to those dazzling John Carpenter and Alan Howarth collaborations in the 80's. McDougall’s contributions amp up the tension and provide an encroaching feeling of dread to accompany the dreary storyline.
In the House of Flies is a low budget effort, and as such, suffers from a few minor setbacks that typically plague independent productions. The limitation in setting is the most obvious hindrance, but Carrer and his DP Claudio Manni keep things creative within the tight confines with a mix of artful closeups. There are a few spots where the music overpowers some of the dialogue and a few lines are lost in the mix. The effort overall is solid, and these are but tiny scratches in an otherwise strong story foundation.
Henry Rollins provides the voice of the caller. The choice of the hardcore icon doesn't work completely. It’s clear that Rollins recorded his dialogue in a remote setting, his delivery sounding like he’s reciting words on a page instead of talking to actual people on a phone. It's not troubling enough to be distracting, but Rollins tends to sound robotic and disconnected. I understand that his character must convey clinical detachment, but I'd have preferred a bit more subtle menace than monotone. It's a very fine line that, again, is not all that distracting. I just didn't see his casting as anything more than name recognition and perhaps the filmmakers being a fan.
None of these complaints matter. In the House of Flies is an engaging, competent film that offers much to think about between moments of real terror. Every conversation held between the characters is important, and the actors are not cast merely as fodder. The film definitely has a higher purpose than just being another torture vehicle. Most of the torture is psychological and not visceral, but there are some potent moments that will kick viewers right in the gut. Paramount is its meditations on loss, control, and survival. Most cruel is the central idea that sometimes love just isn't enough to keep two people together after trauma has taken its toll.
In the House of Flies Trailer