The House of Usher (2006) DVD Review
Written by Miloš Jovanović
DVD released by THINKFilm
Directed by Hayley Cloake
Written by Collin Chang, based on a short story by Edgar Allan Poe
2006, R1, 81 minutes, Rated R
DVD released on September 11th, 2007
Izabella Miko as Jill Michaelson
Austin Nichols as Roderick "Rick" Usher
Beth Grant as Mrs. Thatcher
Stephen Fischer as Rupert Johnson
Danielle McCarthy as Maddy Usher
Jill Michaelson, a young physiotherapist, is having it rough of late. It's been three years since her boyfriend, Rick Usher, and his sister (and Jill's best friend) Maddy disappeared from her life without a trace, and she's yet to recover from the shock of it all. Depressed and downbeat, she is spending her days drifting through the motions, unable to reconnect with the daily affairs.
Then, one day, it starts getting even worse. She receives a phone call from Rick, who informs her that Maddy died, and that he would like her to come for the funeral. Jill reluctantly accepts, and heads towards the Usher estate, which is somewhere in remote New England woods. There, she reconnects with Rick, who is now a succesful writer, and they rekindle their romance, so Jill decides to stay a bit longer than the agreed one afternoon she was planning on. As time flies, she finds herself more and more drawn to Rick, which initially feels like a relationship made in heaven, until some troubling facts come to surface. It turns out, Rick suffers from a rare condition which makes him hypersensitive to touch and light, and that Maddy died from a mysterious illness which claimed many Ushers before her. Couple all that with the creepy housekeeper nurse Thatcher, who seems to have an agenda of her own, and all of a sudden it's not looking too bright for Jill...
"So close, yet quite far", would be an ideal summation of this 2006 adaptation of a famed E.A. Poe literary piece, which was previously screened several times, most notably by Roger Corman in 1960. And while the Corman version had Richard Matheson doctor its script, and work out all the fine kinks, the version I'm writing about suffers from plenty shortcomings in that department, which ultimately derail all the good work done by the actors and director.
The House of Usher is a feature-length debut of Australian helmer Hayley Cloake, who spent most of her career directing music videos. Normally, this particular factoid makes great unease crawl into my system (McG, Mulcahy, anyone?), but Cloake proves herself the polar opposite to the stereotype. Instead of hyperkinetic cuts and camera shakes, we get carefully crafted shots which generate good atmosphere, making you feel that the director is a seasoned horror veteran. Strong direction, along with the cinematography by Eric Trageser, make The House of Usher an interesting experience. Shot in HD, with a muted colour palette, the whole film looks rather "old school gothic", which is the desired effect for a "haunted house" type of story. The shortcomings of HD format are visible at times — notably in some indoor shots — but overall it looks solid.
Acting performances are pretty good as well. Special praise goes to the lead actress, Izabella Miko, who is as beautiful as she is competent. Miko has sufficient range to convey all the neccessary emotions, and her character is a resounding success. Austin Nichols, previously of Day After Tomorrow and Glory Road, is also entertaining as the tormented Rick, and he also manages to strike great chemistry with the female lead. There are two sex scenes to be observed in the film, and while there is sadly no cleavage on display (heh heh), both moments are a good proof of their on-screen closeness. Veteran Beth Grant augments the strong cast, looking rather ominous as Rick's caretaker Mrs. Thatcher.
Sadly, in the end it's the script which makes or breaks such a picture, and this one is just not up to par. First time writer Colin Chang has some solid ideas — for one, he develops the story from a female perspective (Poe's original is narrated by a man), and also does a credible modern update on the setting — but winds up writing himself into a corner midway through the film, with plausible resolutions in short supply. Eventually, you're shortchanged for the explanations of everyone's motive, with nurse Thatcher is probably the most mysterious character, as in the end she simply looks malicious for the sake of it. The ending itself is particularly perplexing, as you can't quite make the head nor the tail of it. Also, horror fans who enjoy blood and scares will walk out of this visibly disappointed...there's hardly even a "boo!" scare hiding within this picture.
Still, there is lot to like about this picture, namely the gothic atmosphere and decent acting by all parties involved. If you can ignore the script which cheats you off an explanation in the end, and just enjoy the picture for its visual aspect, it's well worth a shot.
Video and Audio:
The House of Usher is given a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer here, which looks good for the most part. As mentioned above, HD source proves troublesome at times, so some scenes look pretty grainy (in a bad way), while some are clear and spotless. Thankfully enough, it veers more towards the latter on the average.
There are two audio options, English 5.1 and English 2.0, with both sounding crisp and fully understandable. Also, provided on the disc are English and Spanish subtitles, which are much appreciated.
The disc comes packed with several extras, namely:
- Filmmaker commentary with director Hayley Cloake
- Deleted Scenes
- Trailer Gallery from ThinkFilm
The feature-length commentary with Cloake is a fun listen. She talks about her experience of shooting this film in great detail, often explaining how arduous it is sometimes to shoot on limited budget. There is hardly any dead space in her chatter, and she comes off as an extremely engaging, fun-to-work with kind of person. If you must watch The House of Usher only once, do it with the commentary on.
Deleted scenes include a couple of extended bits with the character of Jill, which slightly expand her character, but nothing dramatic. Fun to see, but you won't come back to them afterwards.
The trailer is of pretty standard variety. Good editing and use of music makes it a bit more tempting than the final product, though.
The trailer gallery includes six trailers for the forthcoming or current ThinkFilm releases. All six are of horror-thriller variety — The Killing Floor, Deceit, Gag, The Insatiable and Bloodlines are represented, as well as the documentary on slasher movies Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film.