MARCH 13, 2010
You might wonder why I would knock on something like The Box for being a bunch of nonsense, and yet praise Hausu (House) for being a bunch of nonsense. Well, the answer is simple: as someone who prefers story to anything else, I felt annoyed by Richard Kelly turning the intriguing and unique concept of The Box into yet another baffling Kelly-ish narrative about vessels and mathematics and whatever the fuck else was going on. But in Hausu’s case, I’ve seen the basic plot (teens visiting an isolated house that turns out to be haunted) a million times, so the batshit, incomprehensible-by-design nature of it allowed me to be entertained by the story all over again.
If I had to “pitch” the movie to someone, I would probably say it was David Lynch’s version of Evil Dead 2, or maybe The Grudge as written by James Joyce. Blending animation, splatter, outright nonsense (a dancing skeleton, for example), typical haunted house motifs, and screwball comedy antics into a single film, Nobuhiko Obayashi has created a stream-of-conscious horror comedy that simply must be seen to be believed, and even then you’ll probably figure you were dreaming part of it up. “Did I really just see a piano eat a girl?” you might ask yourself after the film has concluded. Yes. Yes you did.
The film’s structure sort of defies reviewing, or even my usual sort of “reactionary” type posting. It’s all so rambunctious and free-flowing, I’m hard-pressed to even bring up a specific scene. Images certainly stick out, such as a cracked mirror flowing with blood (very cool), or the kung-fu expert character (named Kung Fu) taking on a phone that explodes, but I can no longer recall their context. I could probably watch the movie a dozen times and still not have any better understanding of it, but I know for sure that a single viewing is simply not enough to PROCESS everything. The editing is rapid-fire, the girls never really pause in between their lines, and it’s got a pretty crowded cast (about a dozen main characters) despite only being 87 minutes long.
Some of the stylistic flourishes are a bit annoying though. At one point, the film appears to have been shot at maybe 12 frames per second, which would be fine for a quick “scare” shot, but it’s used for a lengthy tracking shot consisting of the girls trying to exit the house and make a phone call, while talking. It gave me a bit of a headache, honestly. Perhaps it was an error that they couldn’t afford or didn’t have the time/cast to reshoot, but it’s a blight all the same. Many of the flashes are a delight though, such as the odd super-impositions, frequent closing irises (I muttered “The...end...” several times), and blending of live action with animated/rotoscoped characters/objects. Both Brian De Palma and Michael Bay would probably find Obayashi’s whims to be excessive. Needless to say, if you’re one of the types of people who think Armageddon’s editing or De Palma’s split-screen effects are the bane of cinema, you shouldn’t even look at the poster for Hausu.
Everyone else though, by all means, go see the film. If you’re in Los Angeles, you can check it out at the New Bev until March 17th (two shows a night!), and I’m pretty sure other cities will be playing it as well, as Janus has struck a new print for it. There’s a UK DVD with some nice extras, including lengthy interviews with Obayashi; hopefully it will be ported to the US soon (the UK one is linked below for you Region 2 capable folks). I think seeing it with an equally bewildered crowd is part of the fun, but even if you have to settle for seeing it on a 13 inch TV in your kitchen, your life will still be the better for having seen it.
What say you?
P.S. If you have seen the film, you know that the theme song is both wonderful and haunting. And if you have seen the film AND are one of those techie geniuses, please make it into a ringtone for me (preferably the “Cat’s Meow” variant). Thanks.