I don’t know much about film making, so correct me if you need to, but I believe that all it takes is the right combination of creative, talented people can make something special.The most vital resources are a strong vision for a final product and the ingenuity and skill to pull it off. Even if the final product doesn’t quite match that vision (between the conception and the creation falls the shadow and all that), it can still be worthwhile.
I think this holds true especially in horror, where executing a premise successfully is especially vital and executing it with few resources is especially challenging. That’s why it’s so exciting when you accidentally unearth a gem. And that’s why Christina’s House makes me so sad.
This movie tries. It really does. It shows a sincere desire to be creepy and understated. There’s enough going on in Christina’s House that you can’t help but respect the creativity and resourcefulness of the people involved. It’s also a refreshingly humble movie that doesn’t pretend to be more than it is. (At least, unlike one particular low-budget horror flick I could name, no one involved in production spammed the IMDB page with paeans to its greatness.*)
It centers its action on one location, a multi-story Victorian house.
It skillfully casts what talent is available. Even, in the case of teen heroine Christina and her party girl BFF Karen, if that talent involves looking hot in strappy pastel sheathes or tanks with v-hem print skirts (this is 2000, after all. The movie takes place in Washington state, at some point during the school year. By the way, you can read Karen’s wilder personality from her brighter lip gloss and wavy hair.)
It attempts to create multiple threads of drama. Christina, her father and little brother have moved into the titular house to be closer to her mother, a patient in an institution. Christina juggles complicated relationships with all the men in her life, which also include a troublesome boyfriend she’s not fully into and a badge-less sheriff who comes to investigate the house while Dad is out. On top of this is Christina’s fear that she may be losing her own mind (or does Dad fear that for her? Or is Dad driving her their himself?), a fear brought home (heh) by the weird, if not frightening, occurrences unfolding in the house.
To be fair, occurrences become more than weird once people start to die. True to the movie’s MO, the body count is relatively low and death scenes are more grim than gory. The climax, when it arrives, tries to pay off on what was built up earlier (and it relies on music and acting and quick cuts and other elements that don’t take too much out of the budget), but what was built up just wasn’t quite strong enough to make this satisfying.
That may be where the movie suffers overall. It tries to be subtle, to present characters and events as complex and ambiguous, but it just turns out vague. It’s scripted so subtly it crosses the line from “open to interpretation” to “where the heck did that come from?”. You can build multiple theories on what actually drove the whole plot, but you pretty much need to imagine your own compelling evidence.
Which again, is a shame. Clearly people with some talent worked on this movie. Take the title, for instance.**
During my last week at the captioning job, the woman who scheduled our work was out, so an email went around the office with a list of films up for grabs. I wanted to snatch up Four Weddings and a Funeral***, but since this was my last week I decided to leave that for someone else. Christina’s House sounded intriguing, character based, creepy in a way that’s hard to pin down, not to mention a title I wish I’d come up with.
And hell, when I looked the movie up on IMDB (we captioners’ source for character names), the whole premise looked like something I’d want to come up with. The script is a checklist of things that really get me going in this genre: a troubled family moving into a new, old house full of mysterious nooks: realistic drama and emotions manifesting themselves as maybe-supernatural happenings: a heroine with a sensible, non-generic name who has the gumption to seek out answers herself: and a plot twist dependent on an inexhaustible supply of obsessive hunky mental patients who don’t seem particularly homicidal**.
This movie should have worked, at least for me.
When I found the DVD at an antique mall this weekend, I debated whether to buy it, if only as a reference for this post. It cost three dollars, the exact cash I had in my wallet. It was this, or a nice hardcover copy of Stephen King’s On Writing for the same price.
Ultimately I chose the book. Real estate on my shelves is at a premium, and I decided that the half-inch given to a used DVD of Christina’s House was a half-inch taken from a worthier investment. Like a second Jillian Michaels.
Because something–the aforementioned vagueness, the acting that isn’t quite convincing, all the threads and elements that sort of fizzle out in the face of an ending that doesn’t quite make sense or suit the movie’s tone, the tone itself that’s pretty generic–turned all the creativity and hard work and good intentions into a sort of nicely meh way to spend a couple of my last days at my former job.
Nicely meh, because I got paid. Less than nicely meh, I suspect, if I had to pay to watch it again.
So, from someone trying to create stories in the same field, all the best to these folks, wherever they are now. You gave it a shot, Christina’s House crew. I guess we can’t make it every time.
You’re invited to add your favorite creative misfires, this blog and its sister included, in the comments.
Got to go,
The Wednesday Woman
Stats (past 30 hours)
-Cooked: A giant batch of halushky, or at least my version, which involves whole wheat egg noodles, a Hungarian yellow pepper, and sauerbrauten inspired braising in vinegar and brown sugar. I have made my own potato dumplings in the past, but this week that would defeat the purpose of saving time spent making lunch. By “giant”, I mean one whole head of cabbage, two white onions, one pepper, and about 6 oz of noodles.
-Consumed: 2 servings of halushki, one Chocolate Peppermint Stick Luna Bar, 1 medium Hot Fudge Brownie Biggby Coffee
-To be Consumed: 2 more servings of halushki, 1 medium Hazelnut Decaf Biggby Coffee, whatever snacks I pack for this evening’s shift,
-Written: 1 email: 2 paragraphs on intended-to-be-horror WIP: this post
-To be written: More of intended-to-horror WIP
-Exercised: Zumba: not HIIT Class: run/jogged, 2 miles in under 20 minutes (a personal best, at least for the past ten years. I don’t blame you for smirking)
-Read: The Desert Fathers, 5pgs: comments on HIMYM finale, way too many
-Not watched, possibly not to be watched: The whole past season of HIMYM
*My high school friends and I were most definitely not paid to watch this. One day it will get a post of its own.
**Still have not seen it.
***And here’s a nod to the painting that already did it.
****This is a reference to this.
(Bonus: Here’s the German DVD cover. Including here because it’s awesome and more likely to draw folks from Pinterest. Hello, folks from Pinterest! Good to see you.)