House of Fallen
by Jason Coffman
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The horror anthology seems to be making something of a comeback in low-budget horror films, and one curious example of this style is writer/director Robert Stephens’s House of Fallen. House of Fallen follows three storylines that share characters and a common mythology, each story with a somewhat different tone. This is fairly common in anthology films, but House of Fallen does not play each story out at once, instead interweaving pieces of each story in with each other in turn, with occasional title cards punctuating the action. Unfortunately, this approach only serves to further confuse an already deeply confusing film.
After a brief pre-credits sequence, the film opens with a group of thieves holing up in an abandoned house after a robbery. They have a bag of money but one of them has been shot, and the rest decide to lay low until they can make a break for it. Once that story is set up, the audience is introduced to Thomas (C. Thomas Howell), a former priest whose psychologist friend Mara (Felicia Dames) believes one of her patients is possessed and who wants Thomas to help. Finally, the film follows the story of Roland (Corbin Bernsen), a mysterious figure who appears to Brooks (William Gregory Lee) and claims to have visited his dreams.
The three stories are bound by a character named McCarren (Richard Fullerton) and a complicated biblical mythology involving a group of fallen angels called the Grigori, who were sent to Earth to watch over mankind but instead tempted and tainted humanity. McCarren is the leader of a group called The Twelve, whose calling is to destroy the Grigori. As the film progresses, the mythology becomes increasingly murky and its tie to at least one of the stories (the thieves in the haunted house) seems tenuous at best. The same goes in general for the story of Thomas, which is only linked to the other two stories by McCarren and one of the Grigori, but the action of which does not seem to have any impact on the other two tales.
Due to its complicated, sometimes confusing mythology and the structure of the film, House of Fallen ends up being a serious chore to sit through. The constant cross-cutting between the three different stories makes them all feel like they’re just barely crawling forward, and the film regularly stops dead in its tracks for characters to explain what is going on or go over things the audience has already seen (or has already figured out). House of Fallen is about par for the course from a technical standpoint for a low-budget direct-to-disc horror film— it looks like semi-pro digital video, the acting is all over the place, the effects are few and far between— but the completely humorless presentation is too dour to be entertaining.House of Fallen could possibly have made an interesting short— or two, or even three— but as a feature it’s an exhausting mess.
Phase 4 Films released House of Fallen on DVD 23 August 2011.
Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He writes reviews for Film Monthly and “The Crown International Files” for Criticplanet.org as well as contributing to Fine Print Magazine (www.fineprintmag.net).
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