The Houses October Built
Director: Bobby Roe
Image Entertainment/RLJ Entertainment
Synopsis: In Bobby Roe’s directorial debut, The Houses October Built centers around a group of life-long friends who go on a tour of backwoods haunted house, road side attractions in search of the most debilitating scares. When the horror begins to prove a little too close for comfort, the line between collaborative fantasy and singular reality gives way to the imagined psycho-pathologies of the employees that maintain and perform in the film’s ostensibly fictive haunts.
Overview: The nightmares on display throughout Roe’s film are persistently on the verge of threatening to break into the daylight of waking consciousness, even as the many clowns, monsters, and super-freaks that stalk the many haunted houses that Roe and company visit remain cast in the shadow of paranoid delusion and shadow-play. By playing with the found-footage sub-genre and filmic format, Roe imbues his film with a mock-realism that pairs well with his collection of documentary interviews with real-life haunt workers, as their testimonies, used as a framing narrative that surrounds and supplements the rest of the film, brings light to some of the wild extrapolation and surrealism that might not be entirely restricted to the boundaries of Roe’s imagined horror.
Granted, Roe’s film is within the horror genre, and as such is a work of fiction. The implied indictments of and against the haunted house circuit of community theater players that his film calls into question in its very making is altogether facetious, the film’s tone very near parody in tone and rhetorical import. And yet the entire film’s inescapable sense of dread and invasion is palpable throughout. Each subsequent interrogation and harassment of the film’s chief protagonists by yet another deranged haunt worker is an example of veritable psychological terror that lends the film much of its menace and dramatic bite. The performers in Roe’s film, including himself and fellow producer Zack Andrews, are all believable in their respective roles, the familiarity between them intimate and cinematically believable, which makes the final montage of haunted houses feel like more than the sum of an otherwise route and predictable found-footage thrill-fest.
Probably the greatest aspect of the film is Roe’s use of actual haunt performers, even as some of their costumes and voices at times appear and sound hyper accentuated for the sake of the theatergoer. Haunted houses have become a staple of the Halloween sub-culture in the United States, and Roe’s film gets at much of what such attractions tacitly promise, and sometimes overdo to the detriment of an audience monetarily, if not psychologically, complicit in some of the worst assaults against their mental well being, sanity, and equilibrium. Onscreen, Roe and company at first appear eager to seek out a crew of off-the-record haunted house workers, but become increasingly unsure of the intentions being brought to bear against them as the controlled space of their own filmed experiences begin to give way to Roe’s surrounding film, one wherein the camera is turned around to face the audience instead.
As such, the entire production very quickly evolves from a light-hearted romp across country into a descent into unexpected madness, insanity, and depraved terror. Even as Roe’s eye witness, floating head testimonials provide some needling sensationalism to the matter at hand, the protagonists situated with what is a larger fiction become increasingly sympathetic to the point where the film almost enters the realm of documentary, a la The Blair Witch Project, released nearly two decades ago. It’s unlikely that anyone would stumble upon Roe’s interrogation of the haunted house phenomenon as anything but fiction, but in the film’s subtle construction and deliberate composition of individual shots and lax-deliberate pacing, this found-footage film almost becomes as real as the reality that it aspires to replicate through an increasingly outdated cinematic format and visual style.