Don (C.M. Punk AKA Phil Brooks) is a disgraced former lawyer who defrauded his clients. He attempts to appease his pregnant and long-suffering wife Liz (Trieste Kelly Dunn) by buying a cheap murder house, with plans to renovate it entirely by himself. While Sarah works from their current home, he stays in the new one. Despite the house’s sordid past as a brothel, and despite odd phenomena like various fluids (black goo that looks like oil, red goo that looks like blood, and opalescent goo that looks…questionable) leaking from every socket, wall, and faucet, Don is determined to make up for his past mistakes.
Okay, I need to say it up front. Don is a shitty protagonist. Don is the manifestation of toxic masculinity: “adherence to traditional male gender roles that restrict the kinds of emotions allowable for boys and men to express, including social expectations that men seek to be dominant (the ‘alpha male’) and limit their emotional range primarily to expressions of anger. Some traditionally prescribed masculine behaviors can produce such harmful effects as violence (including sexual assault and domestic violence), promiscuity, risky and/or socially irresponsible behaviors including substance abuse, and dysfunction in relationships.”
Don is a pissed-off guy. He’s so determined to win Liz back with the house that he takes on the massive project despite not appearing to know anything at all about carpentry or plumbing. His main methodology is punching holes in things. He bulls around, losing his temper at the least provocation. My friend Bailey, whom I watched this with, guffawed with me at his ironic impotence at making basic repairs. In one scene he gets so frustrated that he throws something (I think it was a hunk of wood), and it bounces back and hits him in the head. I was constantly yelling, “Why is he surprised?” In addition, he cheats on Liz, not just in the present of the movie but in the past as well. He justifies the current event by saying, “I earned that.” Just how he earned it is unclear to the audience. Or at least I hope it is. (Right after he says it, the ceiling caves in, and Bailey quipped “You earned that, too.”) When his paramour Sarah (Sarah Brooks) is sullen about his sudden lack of attention, he threatens to hurt her.
HOWEVER, the movie was directed by a dude and written by three dudes, so don’t get all huffy at me about the filmmakers male-bashing. The second-most prominent gentleman in the movie, Don’s best friend Milo (Travis Delgado) is healthily manly–he actually shows up with tools and knows much more about fixing a bloody house than Don does. He gets angry when he finds out Don is unfaithful to Liz, stating that she’s his friend and he won’t be able to look her in the eye. In one otherwise out-of-place scene, Don and Milo go to a bar, and the bartender mentions that “Gwen Martin,” who teaches erotic pottery, is stopping by later. Milo is interested in this tidbit, and after being warned that she’s a feminist, he replies confidently that he is, too. Nothing else comes of it; Gwen never even shows up. I can only guess that either Milo is again being used as a counterpoint for Don and the less-than-woke bartender or someone named Gwen Martin really wanted a shout-out.
It takes a while, but when Liz finally gets tired of Don and his delusions and goes to the house to check on him, the movie shifts to her perspective–and gets sooo much better. Not just because she’s a much more likable character but also because the house ups its creepiness factor by a lot when she gets there. ‘Where was all this earlier?’ I wondered. Like Don, Liz makes dumb decisions (like taking the obligatory slow wander through the house full of sinister ghosts instead of just getting the fuck away) but out of shock rather than pigheadedness. We find out the brothel had nasty secrets regarding its employees and clientele, causing one ghost to state, “All men really love is the power you give them.” Eventually though, Liz decides she’s had enough of everyone’s shenanigans. “Nope,” she says, swinging a hammer at an attacker. Since the ghosts are mainly associated with the basement and Liz’s moment of truth occurs on the third floor, you could even speculate that the title refers to her instead of the angry spirit.
There are several aspects of the movie that aren’t resolved or explained satisfactorily for me, but I came away pretty content. I don’t claim to get everything the filmmakers are going for. Even without analysis of its themes, it still has cool practical effects and is a pretty fresh take on the haunted house genre. Also, the house is mysterious, but exposition is handled smoothly–the history isn’t shoved at us in a big clump from an internet search. The score is delightful. I love me some “haunting cello” and “sinister rock”, as the closed captioning puts it. The use of ambient sounds is clever: “eerie whirring”, “eerie echoes”, “slime oozing”, “haunting woman giggling”, “woman moans echo”. Overall, I was impressed by it, especially once it hit me that Don isn’t supposed to be an admirable character. Give it a look if you’re in the mood for something entertaining and different.