“We’re all cracking up under the pressure. I think maybe you are one step ahead of everyone else.” – “Pizza Guy” Cleve (Cleveland Langdale)
There are countless films about “something” in the house, sometimes haunting families, sometimes single occupants. I’ve seen so many of them that most have melted into such an amorphous conglomerate that it becomes difficult to remember them as discrete entries.
David Ax’s “House Monster” will not, for several reasons, be relegated to this category.
The first is that the Axis movie takes place during the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s the first I’ve seen to address the mental health issues of ‘lockdown’. Jennifer (Jennifer Hill), a local theater actress quarantined in her home, is feeling the pressure. Her suspicion that she might not be alone stems from poltergeist-type phenomena: things going on around the house without an explanation, fleeting glimpses of something rushing through a safety lens. Infuriating anything even makes a raid in her kitchen when she’s not looking.
Second, writer / director Ax unabashedly unfolds his story in Columbia, South Carolina, joining a small but growing group of locally produced and shot films. The humor may be lost on outsiders, but local audiences will be delighted with the familiar location, mentions of places like Village Idiot Pizza, and the increasingly identifiable faces of the cast members.
At the head of that cast is Hill, who obviously plays a character modeled after herself, tasked with directing the film almost on her own. His function is not entirely different from that of Jack Nicholson in “The Shining”, as his character Jennier, like Jack Torrance, suffers from the effects of isolation. Are his supernatural encounters objectively real, or are they the product of his own imagination?
Morgan Shaley Renew as Jennifer’s best friend and Mike Amason as Jennifer’s father, both seen on Jennifer’s cell phone or on her computer via webcam. Audiences may remember Ax’s collaboration with fellow director Chris Bickel, “The Theta Girl” and Amason from Ax’s “Lection” (as well as “The Theta Girl”, who also played the role of Hill). Several other characters – a jogging neighbor, a police officer – briefly visit, but they are seen either on Jennifer’s cell phone or on one of her multiple security cameras. This mediatized story brings together “House Monster” if not inside, at least close to the genre “found footage”.
This technique also allows Ax to operate with a minimal crew, with the actors recording most of their own scenes and dialogue, happily minimizing their potential exposure to the virus. Ironically, the most intimate scene in the movie – also my favorite in the movie – is “The Interlude with the Pizza Guy”, which finds Jennifer and “Cleve” logging in at arm’s length from different sides of a door. closed. That sums up the film well.
In its elegant simplicity, “House Monster” is reminiscent of some of the best films in the genre from the footage I found – I found myself thinking of “The Babadook”. I asked Ax if he had any other films in mind when he wrote his film.
“Cinema is a fickle and cruel thing, and most people quietly fail when they try. So the filmmakers who inspire me the most are the ones who refused to fail, and who did SOMETHING, ANYTHING. WHAT, despite the whole world telling them to stop, “he said.
“House Monster” showcases Columbia’s growing talent pool. He comes at the right time in his isolation analysis, but I bet Ax didn’t think the company would be locked up for that long. Neither do I.
September 17. 11 p.m. Nickelodeon Theater. 1607 Main Street nickelodeon.org. (The movie is also available through Amazon Prime and major retailers.)