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Lacking even little things can lead to colossal disasters. As the old saying goes, "For want of a nail the kingdom was lost." And for want of a decent map and a better country road, Jack and Stephanie Singleton get lost in rural Alabama on a dark and stormy night.
When almost-ex-spouses Jack and Stephanie try to take a poorly marked shortcut back to the interstate after getting lost near Montgomery, two tires blow out when they drive over chunks of scrap metal. Stranded, still lost and now angry, the two walk to the creepy-crawly Wayside Inn, where they find lovers Randy and Leslie in the same stranded state via the same metal and bad road.
Nothing bodes well at the Wayside. Pushy hostess Betty, her hostile husband, Stewart, and their lurching, socially inept adult son, Pete, immediately set their four guests on edge with bizarre behavior and comments. And then a crazed killer known as Tin Man shows up—because, according to Betty, the couples brought "guilt" to the house.
Seemingly inspired by Jigsaw's gory games in the Saw movies, Tin Man orders the four to kill one among them before sunrise if the other three are to survive.
Beyond this, the inn knows secrets about its four terrified guests. During the succession of grimy "challenges" it orchestrates in dark basement rooms, dank hallways and trick closets, the house forces each couple to grapple with past trauma (sin) and relive the most agonizing, shame-filled moments of their lives.
It gets worse: Tin Man and the three hosts stalk the couples, doing battle with them and urging them to give in to both physical and spiritual death. Their only hope for salvation comes in the form of a young goth-figure-look-alike (named Susan) who utters cryptic, seemingly helpful advice.
[Note: To explore this film's spiritual background, the following sections contain plot spoilers.]
Jack tries to protect Leslie and Stephanie on several dangerous occasions.
Viewers are obliquely instructed to spend more time with their children through Jack's and Stephanie's flashbacks to daughter Melissa's death. Because they were too busy to play with their daughter, they didn't notice when she tried to ice skate on a frozen pond, falling through and drowning.
After escaping the inn and facing down their inner demons, Jack and Stephanie eventually seem to work out their marital differences and get a new lease on life.
(But the dark side of this bright spot is the fact that, rather than being born of love and devotion, their second chance is merely the result of their refusal to kill each other in the house. And rather than portray real marital reconciliation, House gives characters starkly unrealistic black-and-white, good-vs.-evil choices that overplay whatever points its writers may be trying to make.)
The film opens with the text of John 1:5: "The light shineth in the darkness and the darkness comprehended it not." This reference to Christ is clear in biblical contexts, but we're not led to understand it at all inside House. The verse isn't given much follow-through as the movie shuffles the duties of light-giver off on Susan. (A dead girl? An angel? A hallucination?)
Several times Susan tells the couples that "light destroys darkness." But what light is she referring to? When she's killed with a shotgun blast to the chest, she's promptly resurrected and her body begins radiating tendrils of light that envelop Jack and Stephanie—and burn Tin Man, destroying him and his chance to kill the couple.
Susan says that the late Melissa is "safe" and "happy," though we're not told where she is or how Susan knows this. Betty tells her guests that they are "guilty as sin."
Representing evil is black smoke and a pentagram painted on a wall. It features a goat head and, oddly, the Satanist-incompatible words "The Wages of Sin Is Death" scrawled in bloodlike paint.
Tin Man gloats that he is 100 percent evil. Introducing the murder game to his hostages, he tosses a tin can at them which is inscribed with these rules: 1) God came into my house and I killed him. 2) I will kill anyone who comes into my house like I killed God.
The official House website claims that the house of the title represents hell. If so, then House's message is even a bit more convoluted than I at first thought. Add the fact that the four guests are dead when they enter the house. And the life-and-death games they're forced to play which seem designed to separate the good souls from the bad—the good returning to physical life and the bad staying dead. What you end up with is a ghost-realm proving ground that God uses to discover whether or not a person is worthy of His grace and mercy.
It's implied that as a child Leslie was sexually molested by her uncle. She relives that nightmarish shame and faces her uncle again via flashback. In it, she's still an adult, but she's dressed in a baby-doll dress and has bright, little-girl-playing-pretend makeup on her face.
Leslie, who through most of the film wears a cleavage-baring dress, kisses Randy several times. She also embraces Jack and tries to kiss him. To his credit, he resists. In a provocative and sexually disturbing manner, Pete repeatedly says Leslie is "pretty" and that he "wants" her. (There's talk of violating her in his room.) Leslie says she's already taken. Stewart says she looks "took every which way."
A fatal car crash produces scraps of metal and filled body bags. On top of one of the bags, we see what looks like a burned and bloody arm. The four guests and their three hosts fight to the death in frenetic sequences that largely avoid blood and gore, but feature brutal assaults. Axes, meat hooks, guns, crowbars, candlesticks and knives are the weapons of choice. Heads are smashed. Torsos pummeled, etc. In a meat locker, pig carcasses take the brunt of quite a few blows, as if the director wanted to show meat being sliced but didn't want to put an ax through human flesh.
People are held at gun- or knifepoint. At least four are shot. (We see a wound appear in one instance.) One is stabbed. Others fall through ice and either drown beneath it or are suddenly awakened from their hallucinations. We see them struggle for air. Jack purposely cuts his hand with a large knife to see if he'll bleed blood or black smoke. One of the couples fights, eventually killing each other. The woman stabs the man in the stomach. The man shoots the woman with a rifle.
Tin Man and the three hosts are wounded, expelling black smoke through grotesquely battered body parts that are destroyed and then magically regenerated.
In one man's flashback to boyhood he relives shooting his abusive father. Leslie says that she killed her abusing uncle.
Crude or Profane Language
The word "h---" is once used as a profanity.
Drug and Alcohol Content
One joke about free beer.
Other Negative Elements
Jack yells at his wife repeatedly, and Stephanie responds in kind. Once, she mutters, "I hate you, Jack." He replies, "Fine. Hate me."
I have a question for Christian supernatural-thriller authors Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker, whose co-penned tome of the same name is the inspiration for this movie: Is House supposed to convey to horror fans any sort of biblical message or Christian theme?
If so, then why does it require Herculean mental gymnastics to discern it?
But maybe it's not supposed to. On Dekker's website he features an appraisal of House by Movie Jungle reviewer Joanne Brokaw. She writes, "This is good old-fashioned good versus evil, when our worst nightmares become reality and you're waiting until the very end to see who survives and who doesn't. No religion, no church, nothing but a suspenseful psychological roller coaster ride."
That prompts a second question: If a Christian theme isn't part of what Peretti and Dekker are trying to relay, then what are they communicating? Adding confusion to this question is something else Dekker has posted on his site, a personal blog entry about the movie's themes and its R rating. "So now the studio has to make a decision," he says. "Do they go after the 'Christian' audience, or do they go after everyone else? With an R rating they go after the latter. Mind you, the content hasn't changed. This is still essentially the same story from the book. It's the story of four lost souls entering their own hell, mistaking their one hope of rescue as something evil, and in the end either living or dying."
What is the one hope of rescue for these four lost souls? Themselves? Susan? Purgatory? The film's end credits? House won't answer. It's seemingly satisfied with regurgitating the now-tired tale of folks getting caught between life and the afterlife, and having to save themselves by righting wrongs, confronting fears and making peace with the past.
Now, back to the beginning of all this: GPS and a few friendly road signs. That's all it would have taken Jack and Stephanie (and me) to avoid this tangled real estate-related nightmare.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Reynaldo Rosales as Jack Singleton; Heidi Dippold as Stephanie Singleton; Lew Temple as Pete; Leslie Easterbrook as Betty; Bill Moseley as Stewart; Julie Ann Emery as Leslie Taylor; J.P. Davis as Randy Massarue; Pawel Delag as Officer Lawdale; Michael Madsen as Tin Man