Universal // 2004 // 100 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Mitchell Hattaway (Retired) // November 4th, 2005
Every house has a secret.
Have you seen The Others? Good. Have you seen The Shining? Okay. Have you seen The Devil's Backbone? Very good. Now you don't have to see House of Voices.
A decade after the end of World War II, a young woman named Anna (Virginie Ledoyen, The Beach) goes to work at an orphanage in the French Alps. Following a mysterious accident in which a child was killed, the orphanage is being shut down; Anna has been hired to help clean up the orphanage and get it ready for its new owners (or something like that; I'm inferring here). Well, wouldn't you know it, some weird stiff has been going on at the orphanage over the past several years. Before she has a chance to get unpacked, Anna is hearing the voices of children who were brought to the orphanage during the war and, with the exception of one young girl, were never seen again.
House of Voices is an ending in search of a movie. If I were a betting man, I would say writer-director Pascal Laugier came up with the final five minutes of the flick and then attempted to fashion a story around them. There is a rather striking image in the last scene, but everything leading up to it is boring and old hat. This movie takes bits and pieces from all of the films I mentioned above, mixes them together, and then strings them along in a tiresome, flat manner.
I knew I was in trouble about five minutes in. That's how long it takes for Laugier to toss in the old "running faucets" bit. Gee, a ghost turned on the tap and spooked somebody. Never seen that before. This is quickly followed by the creepy little girl who somehow knows too much. After that we get the creepy, unkempt-in-appearance older girl who seems to be crazy but is really the only person who knows exactly what is going on. There's also an old scullery maid who, despite the fact that she's been complicit in the dirty deeds, is still concerned for the well-being of everyone around her. Throw in a few slamming doors, raging thunderstorms, hidden passageways, and a penultimate scene that somehow manages to borrow from both 2001: A Space Odyssey and Rosemary's Baby, and you have the perfect recipe for a big casserole of horror clichés. You have seen it all before, and you have certainly seen it done with far more skill.
Throughout much of its running time, the pace of House of Voices slows to a crawl. The clichéd moments are separated by long, interminable stretches in which absolutely nothing of interest happens. Anna walks up and down hallways. Anna cleans the floors. Anna washes dishes. Anna checks the heartbeat of the unborn child she is trying to conceal from her superiors. Anna takes a shower. (Okay, so that last one is a bit interesting.) After that it's rinse, lather, repeat. On top of all this, there is no real explanation for the mysterious goings-on. Yes, there are ghosts, and I know whose ghosts they are, but I am not sure exactly what went on in the school's basement or who was behind it all. Better yet, how did Judy manage to survive? Is there something special about her, or did she just happen to draw the long straw? (Laugier is a better director than he is a writer, but I'm not sure I would like to see what he could do with a decent script.)
The technical end of the disc easily trumps the film itself. Apart from a bit of background noise in a couple of shots, the transfer is first rate. The image is sharp and detailed, color fidelity is excellent, and blacks are deep; it's obvious the source elements were in pristine condition. The soundtrack is also excellent. The surrounds are used for ambience, music, jolt effects, and dialogue, and there is an abundance of window-rattling low (and I mean low) end activity. The only flaw in the track is some unintelligible dialogue; what you get here is an English dub of the original French track and, while overall the track is nicely accomplished, some of the dubbed dialogue has been recorded at too low a level. Other than that minor problem, the track is immersive and impressive. As for the extras, there are twenty minutes of deleted (thank God) and extended scenes, as well as a lengthy making-of documentary. Clocking in at just shy of an hour, the doc covers every major aspect of the film's shoot; it's much more enjoyable than the film itself, and is hands down the best aspect of this release. (Before making this movie, Pascal Laugier was responsible for creating all of the documentary material for the 3-disc edition of Christophe Gans's The Brotherhood of the Wolf. Gans returned the favor by helping get House of Voices off the ground. Thanks, Chris.)
Do yourself a favor -- go watch something else.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* "The Making of House of Voices"