Valentine’s Day has come and gone. You know what this means.
So-Bad-It’s . . . no, it’s really just bad horror.
Your entry for this year’s Bloody Hearts is a spectacularly terrible film called House of Nine, a movie that’s so smalltime it doesn’t even have a proper Tomato Meter on Rotten Tomatoes. Although audiences, at least, apparently blessed it with a 36% approval rating, which, while not a good score, is probably about 35% higher than it should be. I would like to know who these people are and have a serious conversation with all of them.
Considering that seems unlikely, I guess I’ll just settle for some wordy analysis and snark.
You’ll find all the SPOILERS here, folks. Consider it a blessing. I’m actually saving you.
Nine strangers are abducted and locked in a house together. They are told that only one person can survive, and that the survivor will get five million dollars. Naturally, people start killing each other. Deeply unfortunately, it takes quite some time.
1. Fifty minutes, you guys. It takes FIFTY MINUTES for someone to die.
I am Jack’s exasperated bloodthirst.
In a well-written thriller or horror movie with strong characters and tense dialogue, waiting until the fifty minute mark to kill off someone might work. This is not that movie. This is hell and gone from that movie. This movie has terrible dialogue and ridiculously weak stereotypes in place of actual characters. It’s also made up of a truly ludicrous number of reaction shots and music montages, like, if you took this film and just cut out all the times people were staring at walls thinking about their shitty situation, I mean, you’d probably save at least 25 minutes, easy. It’s like the director saw Donnie Darko and thought that the “Mad World” scene was brilliant, so he decided to imitate it in the worst way imaginable, and about six times over, too. Everyone’s just standing around, shooting for bleak despair and landing at blank impassivity, and I’m like, “Oh my God, will someone just DIE ALREADY?”
2. And honestly, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a more bizarrely eclectic and deeply intrusive soundtrack as the one they use in House of 9. None of it fits together. Barely any of it fits the genre. And I seriously can’t stress this enough: the group puts on depressing music and then literally sits around doing nothing for an entire song.
I don’t think I’ve ever bothered to award Worst Soundtrack to a film before in my Superlatives. This may be the year that changes.
3. But let’s go ahead and get back to those stereotypes I mentioned before, the clichés that take place of actual characters. First up: our heroine.
Lea – The Nice Girl
Lea (Kelly Brook) is your stereotypical survivor girl: nice, boring, and utterly useless. We know she’s nice because she’s a vegetarian, and because she doesn’t approve of killing people. That’s about as much of a personality as Lea gets to have. As for useless:
B. Flail running
C. Tripping over absolutely nothing
There’s more, but we have to stop there because I actually have to detail this tripping. At this point, it’s become clear our antagonist is Francis (Hippolyte Girardot), the Crazy Artist. (Oh, we’ll get to him.) Francis is in full-on killer mode at this point; he’s already tried to electrocute Lea, but sadly, she survived because of Reasons. (Fun fact: did you know electrocution only makes you look dead for about five minutes, like, eyes open, no chest movement, just for about as long as it will take for the Bad Guy to conveniently kill everyone else in the house so you won’t have to actually do anything of any consequence? Then you’ll spring back to life with a Dramatic Gasp, completely healed. Yeah, electrocution’s pretty awesome that way.)
Anyway, so Lea’s running, and she trips over a plot convenience so huge that she manages to knock a toilet tank lid to the ground and find Francis’s hidden bottle shank. Yeah. Lea literally trips into a weapons stash, and one hidden in a toilet tank, for that matter, like how hard do you have to crash into a toilet to actually break it and knock the tank lid to the ground? Those things aren’t exactly light.
But whatever, she’s got her weapon now. And for a brief moment, it looks like Lea might be getting her badass on. Naturally, that’s not the case: Lea quickly manages to ruin her surprise advantage when she loudly fumbles the tank lid, letting Francis know she’s still alive. And she can’t even manage to kill the bastard, not really: Francis basically kills himself, what with with his own poor strategy, gravity, and the script all working against him. He charges Lea, they both fall off the balcony, and he ends up impaled on the bottle shank. Lea is so worthless you could practically replace her with a car crash dummy and not much would change.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: for the love of Christ, change your godamn survivor girl.
4. As for some of the other clichés:
Jay – The Cop
Jay (Raffaello Degruttola) has a super grating voice, probably because he’s a Brit badly going for American. Mind you, there’s zero reason for this guy to be American. This story takes place in England with almost entirely European characters, but sure, let’s have some random American cop in the mix because, uh, the best cops are grown in the States? You’d think someone would comment on it, but I’m pretty sure no one ever does.
The important thing about Jay is that he has a gun. Jay is determined to keep anyone from using the gun. What Jay does not do, unfortunately, is shoot all his bullets into a wall, which would have neatly solved that problem. (I actually thought he was doing that at first, when he shot a wall three times, but turns out he was just trying to see what was beyond it.) Of course, you don’t need a gun to kill someone–a lesson Jay learns at great cost–but still, it might have helped.
No one misses Jay when he bites it, by the way. I mean, obviously, the Nice Girl does, but I sure didn’t. Other than the grating voice, the guy’s just an idiot. On one hand, he’s the first of the unfortunate nine to understand that they’re meant to kill each other; otherwise, he wouldn’t still have his service weapon. On the other hand, he tells the others this by dramatically pulling said service weapon and freaking everyone out, rather than explaining he’s a cop first like a normal human being. He also shoots bullets into the air without warning anyone, so I’m thinking gun safety is not his strong suit.
Al B – The Angry Black Rapper
The only black character in the group is, of course, the worst stereotype. I’m almost surprised they bother giving him a name instead of just putting him in a T-shirt that says Angry Black Man on it and leaving it at that. (TV Tropes calls this one a “dead horse trope” but in the shitty horror genre, my God, it lives on.) Al B (Ashley Walters) is also, not coincidentally, the first person to murder anyone: he accidentally kills Cynthia when he pushes her away and he rage kills the hell out of Jay, who’s been imprisoning and mostly starving Al B after Cynthia’s death.
Al B’s most memorable scene is at dinner, when he’s like, “Of course, none of you know who I am because you’re all so white” and makes a crack about how white people can’t dance. White Cop Jay mutters, “Now who’s racist?” and I roll my eyes pretty hard because yeah, you’ve totally swung me around on reverse racism now. Still, it’s hard to stay on Al B’s side for long because he then decides to spontaneously rap an introduction about how badass he is, and it’s just immensely dumb, like, I was honestly embarrassed for him.
Father Duffy – The (Unfortunately) Irish Catholic Priest
While the only American male character is played by an English actor, the only American man in the cast–Dennis Hopper–plays an Irish priest. Badly. So badly.
Honest to God, I actually didn’t realize he was going for an accent at first. I just thought he was a very weird priest who had some kind of grudge against contractions. But then I heard it, the sad attempt at a lilt, and guys, I don’t say this very often–in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever said it–but I feel like I could have done a better Irish accent than Dennis Hopper did. Plus, seriously, why? It’s so unnecessary.
I initially figured that Father Duffy would turn out to be evil because, you know, Dennis Hopper. (And also because his comforting smile? Not hugely comforting.) But no, he’s just a normal priest who dies because he doesn’t follow through when he attacks the bad guy. That’s your lesson for today, kids: always follow through.
To be fair, Father Duffy does at least kill one person (who was about to kill someone else) and actively wounds the bad guy. That’s considerably more than our survivor girl ever does.
Francis – The Crazy Artist
He’s French because of course he is.
I’m not going to lie: I barely understood a thing this guy said. I’m not sure why; I don’t think I’ve ever had this much trouble with a French accent before, and it wasn’t just me, either, like the crazier Francis got, the harder he became for everyone in my apartment to understand. Maybe we should have turned on subtitles, but it’s not like the dialogue in this movie is good anyway. His story was easy enough to understand without it.
Francis is creepy and weird from the outset, all slight smiles and dead eyes, but when his wife, Cynthia, is killed, he gets full-on Hollywood nutty. This means putting on his dead wife’s lipstick, kissing his reflection in the mirror, and working his best Buffalo Bill impression. He even draws a circle around his nipple with that lipstick. It’s . . . yeah. It’s that.
5. Our other characters: Ex-Con Shona, Rich Girl/Former Tennis Pro Claire, the aforementioned Dead Wife Cynthia, and Max the Fashion Designer. Leaving Max for a moment, you’ll notice that the other three characters are women, which I’m pointing out because the women have so little to do in this movie.
Dead Wife Cynthia is the first victim and is basically just around to fuel the antagonist’s downward spiral into Crazytown. That’s basically her whole role in the story. Tennis Pro Claire, meanwhile, suddenly murders Ex-Con Shona because Shona says mean things about her and keeps going through her stuff. Basically, it’s like a cat fight that just happens to end with someone dead. Which I guess I could have been okay with–like Claire’s legitimately stressed and tipped to the point of homicide, fine–but then I thought she was going to become a player in our murder game, you know, like actively trying to win. But nope, that would be too interesting. Claire quickly becomes passive again and abruptly dies herself, leaving Survivor Girl Lea as the only remaining woman, which, yay.
6. The only character to even kind of root for is
Doctor Who Max (Peter Capaldi). And to be sure, he’s not hugely likable or anything: there’s a part early on when he’s yelling at the invisible bad guy, all, “Anything happens to me, I’m going to sue the ass off you!” And we’re like, uh . . . possibly you’re not thinking this through logically, Max?
Still, he’s considerably less annoying than everyone else and is easily one of the better actors in the whole cast. Even if he does have a hilariously terrible moment where he throws himself on a bed like the most melodramatic and recalcitrant five-year-old ever. (You guys. It’s SO funny.) Max is still the one you want to survive, maybe because he snidely insults Al B’s terrible rapping, or maybe because his obsession with the food is pretty hilarious. The group is hysterically rewarded for their good work (i.e., murdering each other) with more dinner portions, and Max, getting on board the Crazy Train with Francis, hoards those potatoes and pieces of chicken with frenzied, homicidal determination.
Sadly, Father Duffy kills Max to save Claire from his murderous food rage. It’s deeply regrettable.
7. House of 9 has way too many problems to pick just one as its biggest flaw. The acting is bad. The music is bad. It’s basically all just really, really bad. But at least one of the worst things about this story is that none of the characters really seem to understand that their lives are in danger.
Sure, they all stand around dramatically moping about their fate–after spending a whole ten minutes searching the house for another exit, like, seriously, these guys are such quitters. They reach “Game Over Man, Game Over” ridiculously fast. Still, despite the many angst shots, the group never really acts like they’ve been abducted. Tennis Girl, for instance: she takes a bite of her dinner and says, taken aback, “It’s cold,” like she’s genuinely both shocked and offended that her kidnapper has not served her good food.
Weirder, they keep talking about the money like it’s the only incentive they have to kill each other. Angry Black Rapper repeatedly insinuates that he would do a lot for five million; Nice Girl, meanwhile, is obviously against killing for money. But no one brings up what I feel is the most obvious motivation for murder: survival. It’s like everyone’s completely forgotten that they will die in this house if they don’t escape, and the only way to escape is to be the last one standing. The five million is just a godamn bonus; greed might be a great motivator, but the will to survive? Even stronger, or should be.
But as far as I can tell, the only person who actually wants to survive this house is the Crazy French Artist. While the others are dancing and getting drunk–and who gets drunk when you’re stuck in a house with eight other people who all secretly want you dead–Francis starts making and stashing weapons everywhere. Honestly, if it wasn’t for the whole Buffalo Bill-lite shtick, I probably would have been rooting for Francis to survive because I approve of practicality, and because everyone else in this house is a Darwin Award waiting to happen.
8. This is how House of 9 ends: once Francis dies and Lea officially becomes our survivor girl, a door opens up. She goes through it and finds a duffle bag on the floor, presumably full of money. She picks up the duffle bag and exits through the next door, which puts her in a room with a bunch of other traumatized looking people holding duffle bags. Lea realizes ROUND TWO is imminent, and that’s where the movie ends.
As far as twist endings go, that’s not a terrible one, at least, not the first time you see it. Unfortunately, as I have a well-documented weakness for “people trapped together have to kill each other” horror, I’ve seen this ending a couple of times now, and it loses something each time you watch it.
9. Here’s an honest question for anybody who reads this review: say you’ve unfortunately landed in one of these situations, but happily, you’ve survived! Maybe you defaulted into being the last one alive or maybe you were a pro-active killing machine; it doesn’t matter. What matters is you’re still kicking, and a door has just opened for you.
You go through the door. There’s the aforementioned duffle bag on the ground; also, another door past it. Now, in the case of House of 9, we already know what lies behind the door, but for this hypothetical anything could be back there. What do you do?
A. Take the bag and exit.
B. Leave the bag and exit.
C. Open the bag to see what’s inside it. If it’s money, take it and exit.
D. Something else. (Please tell me what you would do instead.)
I ask because I actually don’t think I’d take the money. I don’t think I’d even open the bag, honestly, although if I was going to pick it up, I would definitely open it first. But I’m an untrusting bastard wary of a twist and/or ironic ending, and I think I’d be too afraid that there was, like, a bomb in the duffle bag, or maybe I’d open the door and walk into a line of cops who’d gotten a tip that a woman with millions of dollars just killed a bunch of people. I just don’t think I’d trust it. Mek agreed with me, whereas my friend Norah would absolutely take the bag of money. (Because, like, might as well get something out of this.) I’m curious to hear from others.
10. Finally, some random notes:
A. I think it was either Kaci or Dave who brought up how often ‘9’ in used in movie titles. For example: House of 9, Nine Dead, District 9, 9 1/2 Weeks, The Nines, Psych: 9, Session 9, Nine, 9, etc. There are probably more. Do other numbers get used as much as nine? Seems kind of ridiculous.
B. The blue basement is kind of a strange set piece.
I mean, I kind of like it–it’s as if Picasso decided to paint a crypt during his Blue Period–but it’s a very big room that has no actual purpose in this movie except for where the characters put bodies. Like, they could have done that anywhere. You’d think the filmmakers would have wanted that space to actually film an important scene or something.
C. The only other character in this movie is called The Watcher (Jim Carter, best known as Carson from Downton Abbey). He’s the disembodied voice that tells the group why they’re there, and his whole monologue is just . . . not good, repetitive and full of so many unnecessary words. Not even Jim Carter and his booming British voice can save this seriously awkward phrasing.
Here’s the whole thing in its awful, awful glory:
“Hello. Welcome to the House. Now if you listen and you don’t speak, I’m sure all your questions will be answered. Now you know how you got here, but I’m sure you’re all wondering what you all have in common to be here. Most of all, why, why me? Well, you can search all you want, but you’ll never find a common thread because I have chosen you quite randomly for who you are but a little bit more carefully for what you are. Now you’re probably wondering right now about all those people who are out there looking for you, your friends and your family; well, please don’t bother because they’ve all been settled with, quite easily in some cases. I want you to consider yourself to be mice in a laboratory, rats in a cage if you will, because this is the ultimate test of human character, only here this test is purely for entertainment, my entertainment. And what is this entertainment, you must be thinking? Well, right now I’m watching you all. Yes, I’m using 75 cameras and just as many hidden microphones, but please don’t try to find them all because you’ll never be able to. But one of you here, one of you will win, and the one that wins will receive five million dollars for his or her participation. I’m sure you’ve all seen the shows, but on my show all you have to do to win this prize is to be the only one to walk out of this house alive. You won’t be hearing from me again. The rest is up to you. So good luck and may the best person win.”
Frankly, I want to rewrite the entire thing. But even a bit of simple editing would improve it. Here’s the monologue again with some quick cuts:
“Welcome to the House. I’m sure you’re wondering what you all have in common. You can search all you want, but you’ll never find a common thread because I have chosen you quite randomly. You’re probably wondering about all those people who are out there looking for you; well, please don’t bother because they’ve been settled with, quite easily in some cases. I want you to consider yourself to be mice in a laboratory because this is the ultimate test of human character, only this test is purely for entertainment, my entertainment. And the one that wins will receive five million dollars for his or her participation. All you have to do to win this prize is to be the only one to walk out of this house alive. Good luck and may the best person win.”
See? Isn’t that better already?
D. Finally, in case you needed more proof that these guys are all idiots: the group splits up early in the film to search the house for an exit. There’s absolutely no need to split up. They aren’t on any kind of clock. And yet they do so anyway after they’ve all been kidnapped and placed in the Death House.
Man. I just need to write my own version of this story. Anyone want to pay me to do that?
Predictable, dumb, and slow as hell. I’ll take dumb and predictable if it’s cheesy fun. I’ll take slow if that means there are genuine surprises. But the three together is the combo of death.
Be as virtuous and bland as humanely possible. It doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, I know, but it comes with surprising super powers, like, besting electricity! You can do it, too, if you’re willing to throw out your entire personality.
Oh, and if you are going to try and kill someone? MAKE SURE THEY ARE ACTUALLY DEAD.