JULY 27, 2012
As I've said in the past, the reason I'm not too big of a fan of haunted house movies is that so many of them are the same - family arrives in a new house, seemingly innocuous things start happening (electricity behaving strangely is a common offender), one family member starts acting weird... and then (at least nowadays) a big bunch of CGI crap occurs until everyone leaves. So when The Yellow Wallpaper started off with a family moving into a new house, I got worried that it would be another forgettable entry in the genre.
Luckily, the cliches are kept to a minimum, and as it turns out it's actually a rather unique take on the material, deftly blending psychological terror into the mix in a manner not unlike The Shining. If I were to distill the movie down to a formula, I'd say it was The Shining mixed with The Innkeepers and a dash of Lovecraft, albeit set in late 19th century America. If that sounds interesting to you, and you can handle a slow pace, then I can recommend the film easily.
The main thing I liked was that all of the characters were a bit off, so it avoided the usual pratfall of turning the family members against one another. While they have their spats, there's no clear "villain" like Jack in Shining or George in Amityville - it seems any one of them could snap. The husband is the most likely suspect due to years of haunted house movies telling us he's the one, and he's on edge throughout most of the movie as he blames his wife (and himself to a degree) for the death of their child, with the added issue of them now being completely broke as a result. And the wife is seeing things and spends most of the movie in a daze (plus the original short story is about her descent into madness), which is where the psychological element comes into play - it's possible that everything we're seeing is just her imagination. Then there's her sister, a woman who feels that she's never accomplished anything in life and is now too old to find a husband. So basically they all got baggage, and it's not hard to think that we're watching a domestic tragedy unfold via the imagery and structure of a haunted house/ghost movie.
But then things get weird. Wolves attack out of nowhere. Some dudes have a duel nearby. Any trip away from the house results in wandering around a desert landscape that in no way belongs in the vicinity of a Georgia plantation. Michael Moriarty shows up. However, the weirdest bit involves... well, Thor. I can't think of any other way to explain it; the husband is in that desert area and stumbles across a blond guy wearing a silver chestplate - I honestly thought I had fallen asleep and was combining things in my head, but I rewound a few seconds and sure enough it was actually in the movie. I've been watching Twin Peaks lately (and recapping them along with two other Badass Digest writers!) so this felt at home to me, as that show is also prone to total out of nowhere "huh?" moments. Except there's 30 episodes of that so I can always assume it'll be explained later, unlike this 100 minute movie - Thor never returns to explain himself.
Now, I'm not saying this is a bad thing; on the contrary, it was the odd little touches like this that kept me entertained. It's a slow film, and the supporting cast's appearances all amount to cameos (fourth billed Veronica Cartwright doesn't even show up until the halfway point or so), which limits the variety of the scenes, but the strange tone and creepy atmosphere makes it intriguing all the same. Reflecting Skin also came to mind a couple times, and like that movie it doesn't matter that not everything makes total sense - it's more about the experience as a whole. Thus it's certainly not a movie for the cell phone crowd; it demands full attention in order to get sucked in, and if it was more popular I'm sure I'd be seeing an IMDb board full of "Worst movie ever, I couldn't even finish it!" type drivel. Oddly, most of the posts on its board are from before its release, as for whatever reason it was shot in 2006 but only released in late 2011.
The IMDb also lists a runtime of 115 minutes, so I had to wonder if it was trimmed some during those 5 years. It didn't FEEL trimmed (if anything it drags at times - the epilogue in particular seems to go on longer than it needs to), but perhaps some of the unexplained things weren't intentional. The original short story wouldn't be of much help either since the movie goes off in a new direction, so I'll just have to try to remember to look into it from time to time to see if anyone can shed some light on the discrepancy.
Again, if slow burn horror isn't your thing then there's no reason to seek this out, but those who can handle the action-lite structure and a puzzling story that requires full attention will find a lot to like here. The cast is terrific, the period setting depicted quite well, and even though his role is brief, any movie with Michael Moriarty is automatically OK in my book. A nice little find.
What say you?