Ben (Gerald Webb) and his wife Linda (Diahnna Nicole Baxter) buy a spacious new home from shady estate agent Paul (Bill Cobbs).
For architect Ben and his family - their brood is completed by teenage kids Ashley (Aurora Perrineau) and Alex (Melvin Gregg) - this is the chance of a fresh start. Ben is still paying the price for having had an extra-marital affair, while Linda is battling the alcoholism that the stress of this revelation led to.
The family set about unpacking and making themselves comfortable in their new surroundings. However, before long the strangeness begins: unexplained noises; sinister visions; disturbing dreams which suggest the family are at great risk. Blood appearing to write warnings in furniture? Yes, we get that too, along with creepy distorted messages heard through the radio.
Ben in particular is susceptible to all of these occurrences. Unlike him, we've seen the pre-credits prologue which showed us snippets of the bloodbath which took place in the house a little prior to his acquisition of the place.
As the hauntings become more severe - gory ghosts appearing to Ben, the house "whispering" murderous thoughts in his ear - the family begin to fall apart internally. All of which eventually leads to the enlisting of TV spiritualist Lucas (Eddie Steeples), called in to effectively perform an exorcism on the place...
While the cover may echo that of the 1999 remake of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, A HOUSE IS NOT A HOME actually more closely resembles THE AMITYVILLE HORROR in terms of plotting. Although, to be fair, with nary an original thought to its credit, it pilfers from just about every contemporary haunted house film you can think of. Placing a black family at the heart of the action is not nearly as novel or distracting from the truth of the matter as I'm sure fledgling production company DeInstitutionalized believe it to be. The final act borrows heavily from THE EXORCIST.
The cast are amiable enough (it's nice to see veteran actor Cobbs hamming it up in sinister style) and Christopher Ray directs with a healthy respect for pacing. 92 minutes is still stretching this premise a little thin, but for the most part Ray keeps the action ticking over fairly well.
A HOUSE IS NOT A HOME is often stylish too, boasting some intriguingly surreal nightmare sequences and nice use of dry ice for fog in night scenes. The final act delivers more visceral kicks, but the film is never overtly grisly.
The big problem with Ray's movie, then, is the aforementioned lack of originality. From the troubled family background to the soundtrack which whispers eerily at key moments, it's all been done so many times before - with bigger budgets, better actors, better direction etc.
A HOUSE IS NOT A HOME comes to US DVD courtesy of MVD Visual. The disc is region-free.
The film is presented without cuts in its original 16x9 widescreen ratio. It looks very good: nicely warm colours, clean textures, pin-sharp imagery and deep blacks.
English audio comes in a satisfyingly consistent 2.0 mix.
The disc opens to an animated main menu page. From there, an animated scene selection menu allows access to the film via 12 chapters.
Bonus features begin with a 12-minute "Behind The Scenes" featurette. Unfortunately, despite several attempts on two players, I couldn't get this to load up on the screener disc provided. So, alas, I'm unable to comment on it...
The film's 73-second trailer makes for a good example of how much colour correction can make a cheap digital production look a lot more filmic: all the footage in this preview is pre-correction, and looks a whole lot cheaper than the more polished finished article.
An enjoyably light audio commentary track from Ray and Webb follows. They're never overly self-congratulatory as they discuss all aspects of the film's making: the locations used; getting Cobbs on board; entertaining moments of ad libbing on set; the desire to make a serious horror film; experiences with fellow actors, and so on. There are no revelatory details here which I'd recommend for aspiring filmmakers, nor are there "you gotta hear this" anecdotal moments, but it's a pleasant, engaging listen nevertheless. The two hosts come across as likeable chaps. It's nice to hear a reference to 80s horror flick HOUSE midway through, too.
A HOUSE IS NOT A HOME - no relation to Russell Rouse's film of the same name from 1964 - isn't bad but is too happy to pilfer from too many better films, meaning that its stylistic flourishes and keen performances soon become unfortunately mediocre.
Still, the film is served well on MVD's disc.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by MVD Visual|