Without hesitation, I can declare my movie geek love for SHARNI VINSON. Ever since she captured my attention in the excellent home invasion thriller YOU’RE NEXT!, I’ve been trying to catch up to everything she’s been in, but have only managed to see the remake of the classic Aussie cult chiller, PATRICK, which had a lion’s share of flaws, but she wasn’t one of them, as far as I’m concerned.
I sincerely wish I had something different to report concerning her latest flick, HOUSE ON WILLOW STREET, but once again, it appears that while she gives it her best shot, it’s the script that’s phoning it in. This is not director ALASTAIR ORR’S (INDIGENOUS) first time at the rodeo, but unfortunately, the Catherine Blackman/Jonathan Jordaan screenplay doesn’t give him a whole lot of ‘wow’-worthy stuff to work with.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: bunch of criminals decide to launch a heist in a location where they think things will be easy-peasy: get in, get whatever is the target objective of their theft, get out. Simple, right?
Not if you’ve already seen movies like INTRUDERS, THE COLLECTOR and its sequel, THE COLLECTION, or the superbly executed DON’T BREATHE. Yes, the whole ‘bad-people-meeting-something-even-worse’ deal is now officially a ‘thing’, and a lot more movies are using it. So much so, that it’s getting more and more difficult to put a fresh spin on it. Whatever you do with it, since chances are that it’s not going to come across as startlingly original anymore, so at the very least, you’d better be on-point with the execution. And that is the main place where WILLOW STREET runs into problems.
Sharni stars here as ‘Hazel’, the ringleader/chief organizer of a gang of kidnappers, who have their sights set on Katherine Hudson, (CARLYN BURCHELL of HEMLOCK GROVE), whose diamond distributor daddy apparently is in possession of a shitload of precious stones…a haul that would put Hazel and her buds on Easy Street. (Shades of DON’T BREATHE, right?) After a lot of what we can assume has been careful pre-planning, they snatch up Sarah in the dead of night and whisk her off to the designated location from which they plan on sending the ransom messages to the Hudsons about their daughter. All pretty much goes as planned, except for two very strange things…Sarah’s not-teenage-or-even-human-like behavior, and the delay in her parents’ response to the ransom demands. Actually, it’s not just a delay…they’re not answering at all.
Already getting the sense that things aren’t right, Hazel sends two of the gang, Mark (ZINO VENTURA) and James (GUSTAV GERDENER) back to check out the house, to see what the hell is up, while she stays with her boyfriend, Ade (STEVEN JOHN WARD from THE TICK reboot) at the hideout to ‘look after’ their captive. It’s not a spoiler at all to tell you that Katherine is hardly the one who needs looking after. The trailer gives away the ‘twist’ about as much as the movie itself does – way too soon. But yes, Katherine is hardly herself these days, and WHAT she is becomes a huge problem for the gang, who aren’t as tough as they would like to think they are.
Now, the idea of crossing DON’T BREATHE with THE EXORCIST doesn’t turn me off at all – as a matter of fact, it seemed pretty damned good (pun intended) when I first saw the trailer, and Sharni being a part of the cast was a big selling point for me, as it should be for any genre fans familiar with her. Not to mention that the performance she gives totally compliments a production I’m not sure actually deserves it. Once the “twist” is revealed in full flower – that each one of the criminals is about to be tormented by some dark thing from their past (yes, they threw in some AS ABOVE, SO BELOW tricks as well), you’d think that would give the movie some extra gas to galvanize the audience with.
Unfortunately, the sub-par mix of practical and CG effects, along with some middling performances from the other cast members, (save Burchell, who brings it every bit that Sharni does), just drags things down even further. And director Orr, hobbled more than a bit by the limited budget, falls back on easy visual effects tropes that you’ve seen in a trillion other movies about demonic possession, instead of attempting to find new and disturbing ways to up the ante creatively (once again, like DON’T BREATHE managed to do.)
To sum it up, THE HOUSE ON WILLOW STREET only turns out to be mildly entertaining, and that’s if you’ve never seen any of the films that it ‘borrows’ from with a totally straight face. I’d say see it for the performances of Sharni and Carlyn, but not for much else. Two-out-of-five stars.