House of Salem is the latest film by UK horror writer/director James Crowe. His previous film ‘The curse of the witching tree’ showcased a film which merged both modern and contemporary themes and styles in a cumulation which proved a success.
I was eager therefore to check out his follow-up ‘House of Salem’ a blend of crime and literal ‘cult’ horror.
The plot follows the kidnapping of an autistic child by a group of mercenaries. The group of meatheads, accompanied by rather out of place young lady, are contracted to kidnap a young lad from the home of two rather eccentric parents. Their boss, known early in the story as ‘The Client’ instructs the group to bring the boy – unharmed – to his mansion for reasons unknown. As fate often condemns it was supposed to be an easy ‘one last job’, no one gets hurt, everyone gets paid. Its not long however, before the group’s straight route out of the life, makes a U-turn, and indeed just staying alive becomes the new job.
As my synopsis might suggest the film indeed plays out like a tale of two halves. The first, a thriller type, reminiscent of recent home invasion films, and it relies heavily on getting to know the characters and setting the up the intriguing story and true threat. Once the threat is revealed, which as the name of the film might suggest involves a rather violent cult, the film plays out like a slightly more typical horror film, with clear antagonists and contains much of the films much needed violence.
Rather conveniently, my opinions and therefore critique of this film tell a similar story!
The plot, or more specifically the attention to the timing of its reveals was the films strongest point; ‘House of Salem’ was an intriguing watch. The story keeps you guessing as to its direction without ever making you think it has pulled in a direction out of its context. Whilst overall there are perhaps no massive shocks, there are a decent number of reveals which show a rare quality of story telling within genre films. The ending scenes showcase some of the films best moments, with some creepy scenes which give gravitas to the films (perhaps over) ambitious plot. There are some interesting interactions between the supernatural and the young child’s learning difficulties, nothing that scary, some a little bit betraying of the films budget, but a nice touch never the less.
Whilst the film has a good written story, how its told is not quite as consistent. The plot of the first hour or so plays out as a horror meets gangster movie, the acting plays it out like Goodfellas meets community acting school. In short bursts all involved do a great job, but ultimately, especially throughout the middle of the film, numerous scenes of extended dialogue undermine the films tension and plight. Talent is there, and each character has their moment, but none have any interesting back stories, despite a stab at some exposition in the middle, and there is an awkwardness about the exchange of dialogue during conversation.
I loved the film, then didn’t quite so much, and then got dragged in again – quite the watch!
Overall, this has been a tough review to write, I much prefer a more binary watch, be the film great or shit. Here this is a good film overall, but the pacing in the middle has issues, and being home grown, I feel like I have just critiqued a girlfriend! I must be supportive though, it does improve towards the end and overall it is a film which in parts exceeds its 3/5 star overall rating, but in equal honestly, you might need to take a bit of break during the middle section.