United States. Directed by Corey Norman, 2014. Starring Brian Chamberlain, Casey Turner, Anne Bobby. 73 minutes. 7/10
Haunted houses, family secrets and personal demons go together like peanut butter and jelly, and Maine filmmaker Corey Norman (who’s already impressed me with two short films, The Barn and Natal, serves up a satisfying portion of all three in his feature début, The Hanover House.
The tale of young couple Robert and Shannon Foster, a young married couple who find themselves in a tragic, uncomfortable situation during an uncomfortable ride home from Robert’s estranged father’s funeral, The Hanover House places its emphasis on atmosphere over flashy effects sequences. Largely filmed in and around a purportedly real haunted house in western Maine, Norman squeezes out every last drop of creepy dread his locations have to offer.
The script covers the familiar tropes of haunted-house stories, with a couple of highly memorable creep-out sequences (Robert taking a phone call from his deceased father is a highlight) and the occasional surprise revelation. There’s a strong degree of realism to the character dynamics: as familiar as dysfunctional families are in fictional film worlds, it’s actually fairly rare for a movie to get one exactly right. The Hanover House nails it right on the head, thanks not only to the script but to fine performances from leads Brian Chamberlain and Casey Turner, along with supporting turns from Nightbreed’s Anne Bobby (as Robert’s mother) and David Shaffer (as the less-than-trustworthy Uncle Fred).
The Hanover House looks and feels like a local, low-budget production and a few of the familiar flaws are present. The most notable one, at least to me, is what I’ve come to term “ultra-indie acting.” As good as most of the performances are, the actors tend to wait a bit too long to respond to a speaker during a conversation, as if they’re trying a bit too hard not to step on their castmates’ lines. This tends to give the line-readings a bit of a stilted, unnatural feel (and when combined with rapid cuts between the speaking characters, makes the scene feel as if it Norman cobbled together from different takes in post, even though he most likely didn’t).
The flashback sequences also aren’t as successful as they could be: Norman tries too hard to avoid showing Robert’s father’s face (the voice of the character’s younger version is almost certainly provided by Chamerlain, and I suspect he stood in for the character as well), and the actor playing the teenaged Robert puts in one of the film’s weaker performances. (I also got the feeling that the Norman intended the part for a younger actor.)
Overall, The Hanover House is a solid, entertaining haunted-house exercise with a couple of great scenes. It will make its official début at the Saco Drive-In in Saco, Maine, on May 9, and will hopefully start making the festival rounds shortly thereafter. Worth a watch if it comes your way.