Director: George Adams
Starring: Theresa Santiago, Billie D. Merritt, John Tupy, Michael Gibbons, John Ferguson
Run Time: 79mins
Is there something in the water in Oklahoma City? You suspect there might be as following hot on the heels of Oklahoma auteur Mickey Reece’s latest kooky effort “Climate of the Hunter” we have another oddity out of that city in this effort from writer/director George Adams (who was a producer on “Climate of the Hunter”).
Their oddness is about the only thing they have in common though as while Reece’s flick was homage to the Euro horror of the 70s, this movie is a neat modern day spin on the classic Edgar Allan Poe tale “The Fall of the House of Usher.”
The movie focuses on Morgan (Billie D. Merritt) whose boyfriend Roderick (John Tupy) has gone back to his family home to help his mother Lady Usher (Theresa Santiago) as his father Mr Usher (John Ferguson) has taken ill. Morgan wants to join him at the house, but Roderick warns her not to come. Predictably, she does anyway. Even more predictably, the welcome she gets from Lady Usher is less than pleasant. In fact, it is downright venomous. Delightfully so though as Santiago is deliciously wicked as Lady Usher and is clearly revelling in her role.
After this point the “action” centres on Morgan discovering the secrets of the House of Usher and regularly verbally sparring with Lady Usher herself. Not that there is much action to speak of. Narratively, this is a slight affair. It should be said the lack of a narrative drive along with the deliberately casual pacing of the feature can prove frustrating at times.
Then again, plot is possibly beside the point. There are other things that the film relies on in instead. Namely atmosphere and its own quirkiness. Perhaps Adams leans a little too heavily on making things quirky for the sake of it, and the film walks a fine line, but it stays on the right side of it. Also, the director does an outstanding job of creating an eerie gothic atmosphere when we get to the house.
Another highlight is the performances of Santiago and Merritt. As mentioned Santiago is the star turn and it could have dominated proceedings but Merritt is more than a match for her and is genuinely compelling watching the pair trade barbs. Equally delightful is the look of the film. The set and costume design are particularly impressive. The latter making a weird funeral scene both weirder and funnier in one of the films highlight.
Going back to the story there are some niggling issues as there are no genuine surprises here and there is a plot point that is presented as a twist but is blindingly obvious to even the most casual observers. Also, Morgan is presented as a quick-witted, strong-willed woman so it never totally convinces that she got together with wet-blanket Roderick. Who does nothing to show why he would inspire such devotion, even if Tupy is fine in the role.
There also story avenues that could have been given more depth. Such as initially it looks like the film will explore the tension of Morgan being a black woman in a very white upper-middle-class household. A point that is brought up but then quickly moved on from. In that same scene a shot is taken at toxic masculinity, but again there is no follow-up.
However, these are minor frustration in what is, mostly, an enjoyable gothic romp.
Overall: A somewhat slight affair but a stylishly made, eminently entertaining one which features a couple of knockout performances.