2013's House Hunting was recommended to me (and others) via my Feminine Critique cohostess snowball Christine Makepeace. Despite her disparaging remarks about one of my favorite recent horror indies YellowBrickRoad, I figured I'd take her word that this was a good newbie.
Quick Plot: Two imperfect families searching for a new house happen upon the same bargain-priced steal located not at all suspiciously in the middle of nowhere. The Thomsons, led by the always welcome character actor Art LeFleur, are recovering from the tragic death of their daughter and the ongoing surliness of their teenage son.
In the other corner are the equally complicated Hays. Patriarch Charlie (since he's played by Marc Singer, he will hence be known as The Beastmaster) didn't waste much time following his wife's suicide in marrying Susan, a younger nurse who doesn't get along so well with Emmy, his teen daughter. The families are accidentally united when a young woman without a tongue runs in front the Hays' car, causing an accident and lots of confusion. All seven hop into the Thomsons' wheels to get help, only to find themselves driving in circles until the gas runs out.
Now trapped on the property, the Hays and Thomsons find that the empty house has a few treats in store for them, including a daily serving of a can of 'stewpendous' beef stew that mysteriously appears every morning. Trying to walk towards the road never ends well, with family members finding themselves right back in their makeshift prison or worse, talking to darker versions of their psyches. Considering a few of the houseguests have fairly unhappy memories lurking just under the surface, this doesn't end well.
House Hunting is the first full-length film by writer/director Eric Hurt and it demonstrates remarkably mature instinct and skill. The cast (a mix of unknowns and vets) all contribute believable, carefully balanced performances that establish real, if deliberately unextraordinary people. There are a few surprisingly effective jump scares that never force themselves on the viewer, and a whole load of fascinating mystery just out of our reach.
Oddly enough, the film House Hunting most reminded me of was the aforementioned (and incredibly divisive) YellowBrickRoad. Both smartly feature casts of mixed ages, avoiding the typical teenagers-in-peril tedium and offering more interesting character dynamics. Both films are set in a seemingly benign location that has slyly trapped its characters, leaving them ripe for vicious and violent cabin fever. While I enjoyed the oddness of YellowBrickRoad a little more, I will easily concede that House Hunting is ultimately a far more satisfying watch.
I mean, Beastmaster!
House Hunting never has to overtly tell us what's causing the horrors to happen. We get flashbacks, we get conversations, but we never need to absolute acknowledgment of 'this is happening because of this and this.' It says a lot about Hurt's writing that he is able to convey the complete picture without having to resort to any dumbing down
...although it does lead me to wonder what the second pairs of families introduced in the last scene did to deserve their presumed fate
The first rule of real estate: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably involves ghosts and death and gross beef stew and that kind of unpleasant stuff
The only thing worse than being cooped up in a house with no TV or Internet for a long stretch of time is being cooped up in a house with no TV or Internet AND one of those impossible jigsaw puzzles that taunt you with their difficulty
Canned beef stew might taste like death, but its nutritious contents will help to keep your hair looking decent and shiny for a few months
Now streaming on Netflix Instant, House Hunting is indeed a surprising treat. This isn't the scariest or most innovative film, but it's solidly made and able to sidestep so many of the standard tropes we've come to expect with modern horror. Give it a go.