Apparently based on true events, Good Yarn Films' MAD HOUSE takes a radically different approach to the familiar "home invasion" trope by presenting its tale all in the form of message alerts, GPS tracking devices, social media photo uploads and footage shot exclusively on Smartphones. Yes, I know, that all sounds horribly gimmicky. I got 2 minutes in and I almost bailed on it. But I stuck around, so why not stick around too to see if my thoughts on it will sway you one way or the other ...
Meet Dale (Matt Hastings), a Briton who has relocated with his attractive family for a new life in Australia. He's found success acting as an estate agent there and to this extent enjoys a luxurious lifestyle with pretty wife Natalie (Dearbhla Hannigan) and precocious teenage daughter Gabby (Tequila Rathbone).
An early montage reveals in no uncertain terms that Dale's idea of living the high life involves copious amounts of partying, alcohol and cocaine. Oh, and extra-marital affairs.
But a spanner is swiftly thrown into the works. Someone called Kevin (Peter Maple) is repeatedly trying to contact Dale via his phone. When they finally do speak, Kevin advises Dale that they need to meet - he has some friends with him, and they want money. Dale agrees to meet with him the following day.
It transpires that Kevin runs a secret drug lab for Dale, who is really a dealer in narcotics and whose estate agent business is simply a storefront operation. Kevin's mates greet Dale upon his arrival at the lab - all of this is captured in audio on Dale's phone in his failed attempt to communicate with Kevin.
Upon being confronted by Kevin's crackhead mates Bryce (Aaron Patrick) and Wes (writer-director Ross Perkins), Dale flees when they begin accusing him of being a drug dealer and trying to extort him of cash in return for their silence. Unfortunately for Dale, he's in such a rush to vacate this situation that he drops his 'phone. Naturally, Bryce and Wes are quick to retrieve it and quickly deduce the password which gives them access to a whole load of personal information.
What they don't have is Dale's personal address. So, they beat that information out of the hapless Kevin. Then, along with Bryce's scabby-faced junkie girlfriend Cass (Jess Turner), it's off to find their quarry's abode and insist on getting the pay-out they're looking for. Armed with no plan whatsoever, what could possibly go wrong when this terrible trio walk into Dale's glamorous pad?
Well, whatever can go wrong pretty much does go wrong over the course of several arduous days as these clueless wannabe extortionists hold Dale, Natalie and Gabby hostage in their own home. Their mission? To get Dale to share the password to his secret online, drug-sourced bank account ... something he maintains he knows fuck-all about.
The ensuing action takes place for the most part in Dale's family residence and is divided into days, spanning over the course of a couple of weeks. This allows Perkins and co to drip-feed revelations about several characters along the way, challenge our perceptions of who we should be rooting for, and learn a little more about our ostensibly despicable antagonists.
There's a lot of seemingly paradoxical classical music played over the course of proceedings, though a late reveal does lend some poignancy to its inclusion. Elsewhere, the class divide between the protagonist family and their aggressors makes for alternately insightful and heavy-handed debate in the household.
Shot on a Smartphone utilising a budget of reportedly just 15,000 Australian dollars, MAD HOUSE can't hide its lack of resources. It does however overcome them to an extent by virtue of keen editing, an inspired use of various social media podiums to fill in the blanks story-wise when visuals won't suffice, and a screenplay that initially promises very little but manages to pull a few surprises out of its bag from the midway point onwards.
Performance-wise, Perkins, Turner and Patrick predictably steal the show with their more showy roles. Sure, there's an element of caricature about their portrayals, but their lack of organisation, questioning of the morals behind Dale's ill-gotten gains, and fundamental reluctance to be balls-out violent towards their hostages sets them apart from your average home invaders. And when Cass's uncle Steve (Steve Donelan) turns up wanting a piece of the pie, you inherently know that he's a bad man to get close to ...
Peppered with wry humour from the off and, later on, an undeniable air of the tragic, MAD HOUSE is an engaging film that nevertheless does flirt with cliche on occasion. For example, the way in which the Smartphone being used to document events tends to run out of battery at crucial moments ...
Still, stick with it and overcome its initially jarring patchwork style, and you emerge with a pretty sharp, engaging comedy of social mores coupled with a fairly convincing crime thriller which dips occasionally into horror territory. I didn't foresee the final fifteen minutes or so, and the downward spiral they drag the hopeless viewer into.
On the evidence of this feature debut, I'm keen to see how Perkins' - an agreeable screen presence even when covered in unsightly heroin sores - directorial career develops.
MAD HOUSE was sent to SGM as an online screener. The film is currently available to stream for free to Amazon Prime subscribers. The film is also due to be available in the near future on other On-Demand forums such as Oona, MX Player and Roku. Congratulations if you've even heard of Oona or MX Player ...
As for the presentation, the film comes uncut (83 minutes, 13 seconds) and in varying aspect ratios due to the various forms of media used throughout. The 16x9 picture is largely clean, sharp and colourful, with any noise or jerkiness of image being apparently intentional. English 2.0 audio is serviceable, while watching it on Prime also includes the benefits of English Captioned subtitles (I can speak for the other streaming platforms).
A pleasant surprise.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Directed by Ross Perkins|