There are strange movies, and then there is House of Last Things. Michael Bartlett writes and directs this independent fantasy/thriller hybrid, and even the most astute viewers may have a difficult time wrapping their heads around what exactly Bartlett is trying to say. House of Last Things combines drugs, dark secrets, family tension, infidelity, and the paranormal to create a film that tosses any and all rulebooks right out the window. The problem that Bartlett runs into, though, is that this flimsy plot structure has a hard time holding any meaning.
In House of Last Things, a clearly troubled couple, Alan and Sarah, leave town for Italy. While they are away, Alan hires the young, cute, blonde, Kelly, to watch their home. Kelly starts having visions of things that aren’t there on her very first night, as she sees a little boy running around the outside of the house. If the plot continued on in this direction – admittedly, like I thought it would – House of Last Things could have been an effectively creepy haunted house film. But we have seen that a million times in the past, and Bartlett is clearly looking to create something unique here.
Kelly is not the only one staying at the house, as she has her mentally handicapped brother with her, and her asshole boyfriend, Jesse. It also turns out that Kelly isn’t the only one seeing things either. Her brother, Tim, has visions that come mostly from the mirrors in the house, and he does his best to cover them up as the days go on. Instead of these visions becoming a mainstay, though, they take a sudden backseat as Jesse starts to change inexplicably. As the movie progresses, it becomes clear that whatever happened to the homeowners is now taking over Kelly and Jesse. At one point, after Jesse puts on some of Alan’s clothes, for no apparent reason, he drives to the store and kidnaps a young boy. When he returns, he decides that he will use the boy as ransom to become rich.
The whole damn movie is this confusing. Why these things are happening is eventually revealed, but the viewer will likely figure out the twists and turns long before it is spelled out. The fact that the house these people live in has a mind of its own is an idea that is played with, but is ultimately another thematic device that is never fully fleshed out. Once all of the layers of the onion have been peeled off, there is little left at the core of the film that makes the journey worth taking.
The characters are interesting, for the most part, and some of the actors are really strong. RJ Mitte and Lindsey Haun as the brother and sister are the standouts in the film. Haun is clearly engaged and doing her best to make things work. She’s fighting a losing battle, though, because the script doesn’t ever reach a final payoff or catharsis of any sort. Bad things are happening at the beginning of the film, bad things happen during the film, and bad things end the film. This doesn’t make for much of a story arc.
I have to give credit where credit is due: Michael Bartlett has crafted a unique and strange film with House of Last Things. I just wish there was a reason for the film to be so eccentric. It feels odd for the sake of being odd. The technical talent is blatantly obvious – Bartlett is a director to watch, no doubt – but the other half leaves me underwhelmed. House of Last Things is ultimately a story of a home that has been broken because of a dark secret, and now that secret is taking on a life of its own. It’s just a shame that it all isn’t a little more coherent or meaningful.
This DVD was released by Revolver Entertainment on February 10, 2015. House of Last Things (2015) was written and directed by Michael Bartlett. The film is 110 minutes in length, and is not rated. Cinefessions was provided a DVD copy of the film for review from Revolver Entertainment.
Branden has been a film fan since he was young, roaming the halls of Blockbuster Video, trying to find the grossest, scariest looking VHS covers to rent and watch alone in the basement. It wasn’t until recently, though, that Branden started seeking out the classics of cinema, and began to develop his true passion for the art form. Branden approaches each film with the unique perspective of having studied the art from the inside, having both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in acting. He has been a film critic since 2010, and has previously written for Inside Pulse Movies, We Love Cult, and Diehard Gamefan. His biggest achievement as a film critic, to date, has been founding Cinefessions and turning it from a personal blog to a true film website, housing hundreds of film and television reviews, and dozens of podcasts.