House of Voices (2004) - Writer / Director Pascal Laugier is a current hot item for his recent torture porn film Martyrs (2008) which has the reputation to be hard to watch but not because it is poorly made but because the subject matter is relentless and unflinching. We at Soresport movies have the film but have yet to viewed it for just this reason. House of Voices, originally entitled Saint Ange is a slow burn ghost story that ends up, by its' end somewhere other than the viewer thought it would. The opening scene is deceiving in it scary setting and sudden terror. In the large Victorian house that serves as his orphanage home, a young boy Alex gets up to go to the bathroom. It is dark but armed with his flashlight he makes his way through the deserted corridors. Joined by a little girl they make it into the large bathroom and Alex proceeds to turn the knobs of a row of faucets. He mentions something about "the scared children" and how the always touch things in the bathroom. After the two head back to be we hear the water go on in the faucets and Alex heads back to turn them off. Did he see something in the mirror above the larger sink? Climbing up to look he is shocked by something he sees and falls hitting his head and from the screams of the little girl when she comes back we learn he died. It is a well done scene with excellent atmosphere and pacing and a promising start to the film.
Unfortunately the pacing then crawls and the film has a really difficult time creating the tension needed to tell the story. Its 1958 and the death has created a political witch hunt that closes the facility. The head mistress Francard (Catriona MacColl) meets cleaning woman and main character Anna ( the lovely Virginie Ledoyen)at the bus. Catriona MacColl has a storied history in horror movies having appeared in such films as, City of the Living Dead, The Beyond, and House by the Cemetary. Laugier has said in interviews he imagined House of Voice as an unconnected sequel to The Beyond, and certainly the strange other worldly shift the film makes can lend a bit of credence to that idea.
Anna arrives as the children are being loaded up in buses to head off for their new homes. Little Marie comes to Anna and whispers in her ear to be careful of the scared children. She is left at the house with the older cleaning woman Ilinca (Dirina Lazar) and her charge the slightly off her rocker Judith (Lou Doillon). The three have the task of closing down and cleaning the giant building. All is not what it seems as noises and constant stormy nights create a creepy atmosphere for young Anna. She soon discovers Judith and slowly learns that she is not quite all together in the head. Still the work and the weather and the large empty house make for a setting. Anna's strange dreams and sickness gets the viewer wondering but this is quickly dispelled. Anna is revealed to be sick because she is a young pregnant woman who is wrapping her midsection in bandages to hide her condition. That is not all though, she has scars on her back from being lashed. It is a revelation that explains some but opens up just as many questions. The time period sort of makes sense to hide and unwanted pregnancy. She has also shown a desire to hurt the child by punching her own stomach. Could the social ostracizing made her hate the fact she is pregnant? It is 1958 after all and many a young girl with child was sent to the country until their term was complete. Could the lashes on her back be from her family when they found out?
As the haunting come on with sounds of kids playing, moving items and the such, the film starts to drag a bit so we can find out Judith was one of the kids who came towards the end of World War II. Some of those kids did not survive and could be the scared kids that the Ilinca mentioned to Anna. Anna wants to know and starts a somewhat sinister plan of her own to coop Judith to get information. Ilinca has been controlling the young women with medication but Anna gets Judith to stop taking the pills. It works and after a time, too long for most viewers Anna knows a dark secret about the orphanage and why it is haunted.
She acts to go look at the secret area behind the mirror that Alex fell from in front of in the opening scene. She pushes through and starts to explore taking a dumbwaiter down to what appears to be a secret underground laboratory or hospital. This is when director Laugier goes from practical haunting story to psychological nightmare. Poor Anna is in the midst of a nervous breakdown and although the astute film viewer will recognize it the average person may be scratching their heads wondering how the film can shift in tone so drastically. The sad ending does not help this movie either and so at the end it is not very satisfying. The music and visuals are very effective in this film but the left turn can not be made up for. So in the end I can not really recommend this film.
Rating (4.7) 5.0 and up are recommended. Too slow to go! Skip It!