Sabbath Reviews: House of 9 (2005)
Earlier in the week my fellow reviewer Dub Cee did a write-up of The Mist. I commented on how films where a group of people are put in a bad situation always seem to make for good entertainment. Coincidentally, I had just finished watching House of 9 a day earlier. Directed by Steven R. Munroe (if you don’t know who he is, don’t worry. Nobody does), this film starring Dennis Hopper and a cast of unknowns has the premise of nine people being placed in a sealed off mansion. They are told they are being recorded for a sick game and that only one of them will walk out alive and $5 million dollars richer.
Already the concept isn’t something new and exciting. We’ve seen similar concepts played out in My Little Eye, Cube, Series 7: The Contender, and most notably Saw II (though House of 9 beat them to the punch by a few months). In fact, what struck me the most was how when the mysterious voice comes over the speakers to tell them what the deal was, it sounded like he was purposely trying to differentiate this game from the Saw games. He tells them not to bother looking for a connection, who they are doesn’t matter. They were chosen for ‘what’ they are and I believe the word “random” is used, which ends up being horseshit because a few of them have run into each other at some point or another.
In either case, the Watcher’s speech (the only time he talks at all) and his, what I considered, attempt to differentiate him from Jigsaw told me I had just picked the wrong film. I was expecting a shit sandwich of a movie, but what I got … was actually pretty entertaining.
This film isn’t groundbreaking in concept. You have some of the archetypal characters. Dennis Hopper plays an Irish priest, as in the character of the group who has sworn to do no harm but is being told he must murder for survival. The character of Jay is a cop, a good cop apparently, who truly believes he is sworn to protect and keep the piece. Asher D. (apparently a real British rapper) plays Al B., a … British rapper with a short temper, a distaste for cops, and more than a hint of racism. The main girl is easy to pick out from the bunch and the rest of the cast is rounded out with a couple of socialites, a criminal, and so on. All the usual suspects have been rounded up.
At first order remains as Jay tries to organize the group into being productive; trying to find a means of escape, rationing the food they are given, and laying down the law when it comes to the liquor cabinet. When hope fades, so does order. At which time Jay gives them the key to the liquor cabinet and a night of partying ensues where everybody decides to just get wasted, and as one can deduce, things deteriorate from that point on.
One accidental death leads to tensions and distrust mounting. Soon people are offing each other for various reasons and though Jay had sworn nobody was going to play the Watcher’s game, soon they all are.
Do any of those beats sound unpredictable? That’s because they aren’t. It doesn’t really bring anything new to the genre or stray from the path. If House of 9 was part of a kid’s coloring book, it would definitely be one of the paint-by-number pages. However, I can’t say it wasn’t entertaining. It might not be high-art on the story front, but the concept is strong enough that even though I’ve seen it repeatedly … my brain tunes in. Is it that the decline of society is such an interesting concept, even the most basic of its representations still amuse me? Possibly. It’s just good fun.
On a technical aspect, the film is actually pretty damn good. I’m not sure if Munroe is to credit, or his editor but as the tensions raise and the stakes get higher they do a nifty little thing with the editing. The audio goes out of sync for a couple of frames before switching to the appropriate shot and it’s a big jarring. It heightens the tension at the right moments and lets you feel the decline. Some of the shots of the mansion are also pretty beautiful and help show the fractured relationships by isolating certain individual or groups. For that, I’ll give the guy credit. He might not have a lot under his belt in the way of Directing but he shows promise.
The acting really isn’t bad at all. I’ve seen other reviewers knock the acting, but Dennis Hopper doesn’t phone it in and the majority of the actors are really convincing. Despite being a rapper primarily, Asher D. does show some acting chops and Raffaello Degruttola (Jay) comes across consistently genuine in his desire to protect and serve. In these types of situations, you always wonder if the cop will end up being true blue or if he’ll succumb to the same desperation as every one else and the answer might surprise you. I really have no gripes with most of the acting, but you might not see any Awards being handed out either.
Don’t see this movie because you expect it to be genius. See it because it is what it is: a pretty damn entertaining movie that follows convention but at least that convention is something entertaining. This movie is about a very fundamental truth of humanity … and for that, I am going to turn to a very wise man to explain what that truth is.
“You see, their morals, their code, it’s a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. I’ll show you. When the chips are down, these… these civilized people, they’ll eat each other.”