Jackie (Julie Benz) checks out of rehab, not entirely convinced that she's kicked the booze for good. But, due to a tragic drink-fuelled incident in her past, she's determined to keep on the straight and narrow.
Her first two tasks are to find somewhere to stay, and try to locate her pal, fellow recovering addict Danielle (Danielle Harris). The latter appears to have suddenly vanished two weeks earlier, after leaving rehab herself. Jackie asks an old cop friend of hers, Tim (Josh Stamberg), to make enquiries about Danielle's whereabouts.
In the meantime, Jackie makes her way to Danielle's last-known address - a tenement building called Havenhurst which is recommended by the rehab centre for people trying to claw their lives back. She finds herself confronted by an imposing Gothic tower block. Upon closer inspection, she discovers Danielle's apartment to have been vacated and available to rent. So, she duly becomes its latest tenant. While settling in, Jackie discovers Danielle's beloved camera and ponders to herself why her friend would've possibly left without it.
But Jackie's doubts are temporarily allayed when she meets the building's landlady, Eleanor (Fionnula Flanagan). She's a commanding presence: an old woman with perfect poise, a steely manner and a calm but authorative delivery when speaking. She insists that Danielle and her lover had to leave the premises when their hedonistic habits contravened her puritanical requirements. They "broke the rules", Eleanor nonchalantly explains. Her adult son, the weirdy-beardy caretaker Ezra (Matt Lasky), looks on. He's just as freaky in his own standoffish way.
Jackie busies herself making the apartment her own. In the meantime she starts works as a waitress in a local cafe to make ends meet, and continues to enjoy regular meetings with Tim, who appears to be becoming increasingly intrigued by the circumstances of Danielle's disappearance. Not least of which is Jackie's claim that Havenhurst has a history of tenants going missing...
Clearly, Jackie and Tim are in the dark. We the viewer, however, have been privy to a succession of telling snapshots since the opening scene onwards. For instance, the pre-credits prologue shows us what happened to Danielle and her lover in the apartment (Harris fans take note: this is the only time she actually features in the film). Later, we witness the violent fate which awaits Jackie's promiscuous neighbour Paula (Jennifer Blanc - Michael Biehn's wife. And true to form, she gets her norks out) shortly after she's been given her marching orders from Havenhurst. A paedophile husband and his junkie mother also meet a gory demise - all of which is shot in an ambiguously edited style, suggesting a hint of the supernatural at play.
Handsomely mounted, keenly shot, well-acted and decently paced, HAVENHURST has a lot going for it. Benz is a strong, agreeable lead; the likes of Stamberg and Flanagan provide solid support. Director Andrew C Erin finds a fine balance between incremental atmospherics, slow-burning terror and the occasionally gory set-piece. I detected hints of SUSPIRIA, DEAD AND BURIED, THE SHINING, THE PACT, ALIENS and a few more films during playback - and yet HAVENHURST managed to emerge with its own identity intact. Tomandandy's score is alternately ambient and bombastic too, in a most beneficial manner.
That's not to say it's a perfect film. Jackie's drink addiction is really played upon to any relevant extent. The twist reveal comes too early, leaving Jackie to deduce what's going on long after the audience have already sussed it. There's an urgent requirement for suspended disbelief during the increasingly zany set-pieces, and a SAW-like sheen to the violence which may feel too mainstream, too polished, for many (hardly surprising though, given that the production company behind SAW - Twisted Pictures - also produced this).
Still, that latter point also guarantees us a slick visual élan throughout, which definitely works in the film's favour. Sound design is impressively spacious and eerie too.
HAVENHURST is available to watch now on Cable and Digital VOD.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Passion River|