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1 review, 27 user ratings

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House of Usher, The (2006)
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by Jay Seaver

"If only the grounds would swallow it up."
2 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2006 BOSTON FILM FESTIVAL: Festival movies that don't work for you stink worse than ordinary bad movies, not just because there's a higher expectation of quality, but because you're in the room with the cast and crew, their friends and family, and maybe even their small, adorable children. The guy next to you gives you the stink-eye if you don't applaud, and when Q&A time comes, most of us don't have the guts to ask something like "so, at what point in the process did you realize you weren't making a good movie?"

Then, of course, there's that moment toward the end, when they start with the whole "there's this website called eye-em-dee-bee-dot-com, and all the people in Hollywood read it, so if you post your opinions there it can really help us" deal. It makes them seem like friendly, regular folks, but the truth of the matter is, they're probably not talking to you.

So it is with The House of Usher, a "modern retelling of Poe's classic story from a female perspective". What makes this movie not being very good hurt all the worse is that director Hayley Cloake and writers Collin Chang (screenplay) and Boyd Hancock (story) have hit upon a pretty good way to go about this. Here, the nameless male narrator of Poe's story is replaced by Jill Michaelson (Izabella Miko), a former girlfriend of Roderick Usher (Austin Nichols) who counted his twin sister Madeline as her best friend until both Ushers vanished from her life three years ago. Now, she returns to the titular mansion for Madeline's funeral, and though family retainer Mrs. Thatcher (Beth Grant) makes every effort to send her home quickly, Roderick wants her to at least stay through the weekend, to help him get through the twins' upcoming birthday...

The secret of the Ushers, and the full story behind Maddy's death, are well-conceived, hinted at in Poe's story and able to be taken a step or two further in a modern environment. However, parts are a little too modern - an old house in the middle of nowhere just isn't that isolated any more, especially when there's clearly electric and cell phone service to be had. No internet, though - twenty-five-year-old Roderick Usher writes his best-selling novels on a portable electric typewriter. At any rate, this is not a horror movie where the environment itself adds to the sense of dread.

The house's last surviving heir isn't exactly scintillating, either. Austin Nichols isn't exactly terrible - I did believe that Roderick was saddened by his sister's death - but the character does not overflow with personal charisma. Why did Jill ever love him? Why (other than pity/shared grief) would she be drawn to him again? Why should the audience hope that he's a decent guy for Jill to live happily ever after with? I couldn't find a single reason. Nichols isn't helped by the script, which doesn't give him anything interesting to say, and indeed, make him a complete crashing bore . It's actually painful to listen to the monotoned voiceover of his dense, Poe-like writings as he's hunched over the typewriter.

The other two main cast members fare a bit better. Beth Grant probably has the most fun as Mrs. Thatcher, with the sinister make-up, overt hostility toward the pretty blonde interloper, and creepy infatuation with her far-younger employer. It's almost a parody of the unsettling servant archetype, but Ms. Grant seizes what the filmmakers give her to work with and creates something resembling a complete character that can also be enjoyed as the genre staple she is. Izabella Miko does well enough with what she's given, although she's constrained by the same lack of spark between Jill and Roderick. She at least gets to act freaked out or droll on occasion, and she certainly brings the sex appeal in the blonde, firm-bodied way.

Things get most frustrating in the last act, since just as we're getting the icky stuff that makes this movie interesting, things become actively annoying. The bit where Beth starts lining up portraits gets cut so that the audience might not recognize the critical pattern, Mrs. Thatcher's motives suddenly become whatever they need to be at this particular second, and we suddenly find that it would be useful to know more about Madeline Usher than we actually do. Then there's the brightly colored injections and the magical hydrotherapy that fill the whole movie but get even more ridiculous in the finale. And, really, why hasn't that bloody piece of clothing been disposed of or at least washed by now?

The problem, some will say, is with not managing expectations properly, and expecting a boutique-quality festival film when I was getting a cheap direct-to-video thriller.. If the BFF had a separate Midnight Madness section, perhaps, I'd look at it differently. That's possible, I suppose, but I don't think so - I expect my guilty pleasure material to be a heck of a lot more exciting than this.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15353&reviewer=371
originally posted: 09/18/06 20:39:55
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Boston Film Festival For more in the 2006 Boston Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/14/11 Hannah it was an interesting idea but to hard to follow most of the time 3 stars
5/03/10 cml so i take it the whole generation of the ushers were twin brother and sister? 2 stars
6/30/09 James not a good film, very hard to follow. What was it about? 1 stars
2/12/09 Debra The end was convoluted. Not worthy of POE 2 stars
11/28/08 Rebekah It was type of movie where you were just like "what the hell just happened? 2 stars
9/27/08 K.C. Tedious and witless. Some full-frontal nudity (Austin Nichols) might have helped, a little. 2 stars
8/27/08 Valerie Good, but a bit confusing. 3 stars
5/13/08 cyanide loved it, very grotesque, i love e.a.p works to begin with =] 5 stars
11/15/06 Veronica good movie 3 stars
11/07/06 you know me horrible, boring and confusing 2 stars
10/14/06 Sebastian Grimaldi Isabella is a sexy babe 4 stars
10/03/06 Scott Hot 4 stars
10/01/06 Denise Really enjoyed this Indie thriller! 4 stars
9/29/06 Michelle I was surprised. A good little movie. 3 stars
9/28/06 Eileen Great film 4 stars
9/25/06 A. Driscoll I loved the suspense, and I could not take my eyes off of Isabella Miko. 4 stars
9/24/06 Lisa Really good movie- kept my attention the entire time.... 4 stars
9/23/06 Betsy Thrilling, suspenseful, and in the true Poe fashion!!! 4 stars
9/22/06 Frank pretty good little flick 4 stars
9/21/06 Keeka Love the shot of the trees and Nurse Thatcher! 4 stars
9/21/06 Mary I really enjoyed this movie. I was on the edge of my seat. It was definitely worth seeing! 4 stars
9/21/06 Poe Fan I found this film to be quite entertaining, and a cool adaptation of the short story! 3 stars
9/21/06 Edie Ptacek Great scenery, very eerie, loved the old world feel 4 stars
9/21/06 Caroline Lussky I was on the edge of my seat waiting to see what happened next! 4 stars
9/20/06 Frank Pretty good. I was surpised. 4 stars
9/17/06 J. Reeve Atmospheric and moving. Izabella Miko is a revelation. 5 stars
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  N/A (NR)
  DVD: 11-Sep-2007



Directed by
  Hayley Cloake

Written by
  Collin Chang

  Izabella Miko
  Austin Nichols
  Beth Grant
  Robin Kurian

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