“I came here to have a serious discussion with you, not to be psychoanalysed,” complains Ethan Lightman (Thomas Mann) to his semi-estranged girlfriend Hannah (Nicola Peltz), about halfway through Anthony Scott Burns’ Our House.
The line marks an important transition. For up until this point, Our House has followed young adult Ethan, his teenaged brother Matt (Percy Hynes White) and little sister Becca (Kate Moyer) as they struggle to cope together with their feelings of grief, guilt and loss following the sudden death of their parents in a road accident. Ethan, who had always prioritised his university research on ‘wireless electricity’ over his family, has now been forced to abandon his degree, to take a job in a home-improvement store and to play reluctant father to his siblings – and has shut himself off from Hannah the way he had previously shut himself off from his family. Ethan has brought his research work home with him, keeping it under wraps in the garage – and at the precise moment that he returns to it, turning his back once more on family as he switches his invention on again, both Matt and Becca sense the revenant reemergence of their parents in the house. Soon Ethan too will become convinced that his device has the power to open a pathway to the dead.
It seems plain that there is much to be psychoanalysed here. If Ethan is something of an absent presence in his own home, and never more so than when he is off in the garage, tinkering with his personal obsessions rather than fulfilling his household obligations, then his siblings compensate and fill the void by retreating into fantasy and conjuring up the ghosts of their late, loving parents in a house still haunted with their memory. Accordingly, the first half of Our House is a portrait of a broken family, with the psychological fallout amplified by the house’s ghostly, gothic underpinnings. Yet it is in the film’s second half that its electrical ghosts cease to be mere metaphors for mental processes, and that the irony of the title’s first word comes to the fore. For it is here that the Lightmans are made to realise that their house has over the decades belonged to others too – others who are equally keen to rematerialise and to force their not always benign histories onto new generations.
Our House is indeed haunted – not just by Matt Ostermann’s Ghost From The Machine of which it is expressly a reimagining, but also by Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist and James Wan’s Insidious, with their netherworlds of unrestful spirits desperate to trick their way back into the land of the living. There is even a significant Raggedy Ann doll that resembles the ‘real’ Annabelle at Ed and Lorraine Warrens’ Occult Museum. If none of this seems particularly original, the film is not really claiming to be – for it is built like the house on the foundations of other pasts and other stories. In the end, Ethan must decide what he values more: work or family, and a phantom past that can never truly return, or a future making a new home. You can probably guess which way he and his siblings go – but along the way, the well-worn path of their crisis is lit by some unusual-looking CG spectres (built of dark gaseous vapours), and by some serious discussion of morbid fixations and domestic disruptions.
Our House was seen and reviewed at Fantasia 2018.