Monday, March 2, 2020

The Home Insurance Is the Real Horror

There's a certain kind of film that seemed to have come out from the late 198s/early 1990s, a kind of drama with heavy ideas, grand storytelling, but oddly minimalist visual elements. Michael Tolkin's The Rapture falls into that category, and now I'd add Bernard Rose's Paperhouse, a fascinatingly sparse film without a genre.

Quick Plot: Anna is an angry young lady around 12 years old. Her class clown antics and aggressive behavior at school get her in trouble, while her exasperated mother (played by a somewhat British accent warbling Glenne Headly) lovingly tries to unlock her daughter's attitude. Much of it clearly comes from, you know, being a 12-year-old girl, but the on/off parenting of her absent alcoholic dad certainly doesn't help. 

As Anna fights illness at home, she busies herself with artwork only to discover that the house she has drawn comes to life in her dreams. Hanging out both in her drawing and dream is Marc, a boy her age suffering from muscular dystrophy. Or maybe, Anna just forgot to draw his legs.

Directed by Candyman's Bernard Rose from Matthew Jacobs' adaptation of Catherine Storr's novel, Paperhouse is a strange, haunting, and hard to classify little film. While there are certainly elements of horror, it has a far more serious fairy tale vibe that should speak to both the young and mature. At the same time, you can easily understand how it would have been lost on a video rental shelf. 

In her only onscreen role, Charlotte Burke is so achingly real and bundled with feelings that seem to only make sense in a dream world. Marc, it turns out, is a real boy, the patient of Anna's doctor. How she's able to reach him via her art dreams isn't explained, nor does it ever feel like the point. 

Anna can't save Marc or rewrite (redraw?) their lives to a happily ever after ending, but there's a strange, effective power the two youths find in whatever realm their friendship exists. Anna has her family demons, which are wisely never fleshed out in full. Marc is dying, and will never experience the full life of a healthy boy. Whether their connection is mystical or purely that of Anna's imagination, there's a very genuine element in how it seems to help both grow up in their own way.

High Points
Seriously, I'm sure she had her reasons and is hopefully a well-adjusted adult human now, but what a shame that Charlotte Burke retired from acting after Paperhouse. The film rests on her young shoulders, and she brings such a wonderfully fresh energy that isn't easily repeatable

Low Points
Hey, it's not MY fault I approached this movie assuming it was a horror movie and would call to mind the only thing I like in Nightmare On Elm Street 5, but yes, I may have been slightly disappointed to not get anything akin to this:

Lessons Learned
Snogging is a lot like kissing a vacuum cleaner

When in doubt, draw a pencil AND eraser

For the love of all things in this world, don't ever film an entire film with an American actress only to tell her after the fact that she'll have to dub her dialog with a British accent while giving her no time to learn anything about the mechanics of a British accent. Glenne Headly deserved better


Long out of print, Paperhouse is now streaming on Amazon Prime, and it's well worth a watch. Know that you're getting a very spare, unusual tale of coping, empathy, and connecting that won't necessarily satisfy your usual genre urges, but this is a movie unlike many others, and that alone makes it something very special. 


  1. Never heard of this one but it sounds interesting. It's funny you mentioned The Rapture because I saw that one a year or two ago, expecting a Satanic horror movie but getting something much more like you described -- a heavy, weird drama -- but I definitely liked it so I'll add this one to my list. Thanks!

  2. Excellent write-up as always. And poor Glenne Headly. That's crazy.