I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

House of Voices

a.k.a. SAINT ANGE

When I watched THE TALL MAN recently I thought it was writer/director Pascal Laugier’s first English language picture. Turns out his one feature before MARTYRS was also in English. Coincidentally this was produced by Christophe Gans, whose CRYING FREEMAN I reviewed recently too. Laugier was apparently Gans’s assistant, and director of the BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF making-of documentaries. (I wonder what kind of crazy unpredictable plot turns those had?) I guess he also appears in the movie itself, playing the assistant to Machemort, whoever that is. I wonder if he’s friends with Mark Dacascos?

HOUSE OF VOICES isn’t bad, but it’s the normal horror movie Laugier had to make before figuring out how to slice the genre’s face off and wear it as a mask. It’s the learning-the-rules-before-breaking-them part of his career. It’s got many familiar elements: period piece in proximity to a war, big dilapidated building where something bad happened, innocent sounds of children used in spooky context, people talking in English with European accents, pretty young newcomer trying to uncover horrible secrets, older woman hiding the truth who speaks in her mother tongue so you don’t know what she’s talking about, something supernatural going on inside or behind the mirrors… It’s basically in the same subgenre as THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE and THE OTHERS, although not as good as either of those.

Virginie Ledoyen plays Anna, the new employee at the abandoned orphanage Saint Ange. I’m not really clear why they still have a couple people there cleaning dishes other than that there’s one orphan left, a big-toothed adult woman named Judith (Lou Doillon) who’s crazy but friendly.

Anna starts to notice strange things around the orphanage, so she starts snooping. Something bad happened here – not just the prologue where a kid fell to his death, but something during the war where a whole bunch of kids were dropped off here and there weren’t enough doctors to take care of them. She finds artifacts, photos, files, she tries to ask about it, but the women who were there don’t want to talk about it and get mad that she’s asking.

Because of some of the ghost movies I’ve seen, and Laugier’s penchant for unexpected turns, my mind kept looking for tricks. Her boss Helenka says, “I see you met Judith,” I’m thinking oh, Judith is actually a ghost and Helenka is just joking around and doesn’t know that Anna really sees her. But don’t worry, it’s nothing like that. (OR IS IT?) (Keep you on your toes.)

The more unique touches are mostly subtle. I like how the prologue seems to show definitive proof of ghostly activities, but the kids in the scene don’t actually see it, and a little boy falls not from the ghosts themselves but (as far as we know) from being startled by lightning. So it’s like the haunting is almost irrelevant.

I like how we identify with the girl but she starts to get kinda crazy in her quest to uncover the secrets of the past. She seems to almost delight in causing further trauma for Judith, and “finding the truth” seems to mostly mean making Helenka relive a horribly traumatic tragedy from her past. (And at the end SPOILER didn’t we find out that Anna actually killed the cats? I didn’t get that. Maybe I missed something.) That’s one hint of the Laugier that will be – a fondness for playing with the language of cinema to mess with you, making you identify with a character for a long time before making you wonder if maybe you’re on the wrong team.

I kinda liked HOUSE OF VOICES, but wouldn’t really recommend it except for completists trying to see where this MARTYRS/TALL MAN guy came from. According to this interview Laugier felt the movie “was not understood or liked” and it created an anger that led to him making MARTYRS. So it was a necessary step. I’m glad he took it.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 18th, 2012 at 1:31 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

11 Responses to “House of Voices”

  1. I feel like I should be avoiding the comments on this one, since I haven’t seen Martyrs yet. I’m dying to, but the only one available here in the Cape is the UK Region 2 one, which has been cut by the BBFC.

    Fuckin’ BBFC, man. Whenever a new horror film worth mentioning comes out, I always end up finding out that tey’ve have cut it to ribbons. They cut everything. Just visit their website and have a look for yourself. Audition, Human Centipede, A Serbian Film, Inside, Martyrs.

    Dear Great Britain, please sort your 18th century shit out, or at least make it compulsory that they put a massive label in the cover of the disc that say “This isn’t the full and complete film. This is a version butchered by the BBFC.”

    Thanks, BBFC, for protecting us against ourselves.

  2. I’m pretty sure the UK region 2 is uncut. I got that version, and I also download a version before I saw that, and I didn’t spot anything that was. There isn’t any sexual violence, which is the violence that BBFC objects to (like in A Serbian Film). The BBFC says that Martyrs passed without any cuts. Only extreme sexual violence is cut.

    Films usually only get cut if the company want a 15 or a 12 rating rather then an 18. It was in 80’s they cut everything. After 2001 most is uncut, with the exception of A Serbian Film and Human Centipede 2 (also Ichi The Killer).

    Also movie-censorship only have comparisons of the R rated and Un-rated cut, they usually have information if there is an UK cut version.

    So in short BBFC only cut sexual violence and real violence to animals (and stunt work with animals that is illegal in the UK).

    So you can pretty safe buy the UK cut of Martyrs, Inside and Audition. But skip Human Centipede 2 (not 1), A Serbian Film and probably Murder Set Pieces (but that is a terrible film anyway). Also there are a couple of Japanese film and Germans that also goes to far for the BBFC. My country (Norway) is also very hard on sexual violence, and banned A Serbian Film and Ichi the Killer have been banned. In Norway films doesn’t need to get rated, but if enough people complain, a board would watch the film and see if it breaks any of the rules. Which is in any cases sexual violence or child porno.

  3. I have a Category III Hong Kong dvd of Ichi the Killer, and I don’t get why it’s always mentioned with A Serbian Film and Human Centipede 2. Is the copy I have cut?

  4. Did you miss the part with the back hooks and the boiling grease?

    However, if ICHI doesn’t shock anymore, it might be because the sickos who made A SERBIAN FILM and HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 saw it 10 years ago and said, “I can beat that.”

    In any case, all of Miike’s Yakuza movies bleed together for me into one long back-tattooed surrealist S&M nightmare, but isn’t ICHI the one with the thing with the glass table and the nipples? You don’t even see anything but that one got me pretty good. Hell, just the sound of razorblades on glass is grisly enough of is without putting some defenseless nipplemeat in between them.

  5. I never found A SERBIAN FILM chocking, just stupid. Only good part in it was when the “hero” killed a guy by poking his eye out with his super-dick.

  6. Just looked up Martyrs, Inside and Audition on the BBFC website. They were all passed with no cuts Knox. Sure A Serbian Film and Human Centipede 2 were cut but they seem to be the exception rather than the rule. The bad old days of the video nasties are far behind us. Just get Martyrs, it’s great.

  7. Pegsman – Yes, the HK Cat III release of Ichi The Killer is cut.

  8. Okay, there’s something going on here. It’s a goddamn conspiracy, I say. Could have sworn the last time I checked those films were cut.

    I remember when Oldboy came out there was this big uproar because they decided to cut shots of that dude eating that octopus. Just checked now, and it says that nothing’s been cut.

    They’re hiding something, goddammit!

    Plus, they cut more than a minute from Pussy Storm 2: Deep Inside My Panties.

  9. The Original... Paul

    September 18th, 2012 at 11:09 am

    The fuckers!

  10. I think the main point about BBFC is that they themselves don’t actually cut anything – they recommend cuts so that the filmmakers can achieve the classification they want.
    I know it sounds kind of moot since the cuts get made but it puts the onus on the filmmaker to decide what they want to do rather than have some group of randoms slicing the movie up after it’s done.
    The C stands for classification rather than censor these days.

    Basically if you’re happy with an 18 certificate and you’re not showing animal cruelty or baby rape (or showing big person rape as a pleasant thing) then you’re good to go.

    Weird how few 18s there are these days, went to see Dredd last week and I was trying to recall the last time I paid money to see an 18 in the cinema. Can’t think what the last one was

  11. To echo Vern’s last paragraph: Enjoyed this one okay, but can’t recommend it to anyone but Laugier completists.

    -strong opening, creepy & violent (without any blood) & featuring kids acting like real, believable kids

    -restrained filmatism — restrained despite the cliched use of literal thunder & lightning to establish atmosphere

    -lead Virginie Ledoyen looks like a pretty, somber cross between Sasha Grey & Rachel McAdams

    -Judy character looks like a cross between Gina Gershon & a skeleton

    The ***SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER*** ending of this movie made me notice striking similarities in

    themes
    (shady powerful groups operating underground)
    &
    mise-en-scene
    (dusty, lived-in upstairs becomes creepily antiseptic, symmetrical downstairs)

    between 2 otherwise rather different filmmakers, and led me to this nerdy SAT equation:

    Pascal Laugier’s
    HOUSE OF VOICES : MARTYRS

    ::

    Joss Whedon’s
    Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 4 “Initiative” plot : THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (or DOLLHOUSE)

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