No Bad Deed Goes Unpunished at the ‘House on Willow Street’
O. Henry’s “The Ransom of Red Chief” gets a devilish upgrade.
It’s not easy being a kidnapper. Months of planning, a tenuous trust in your cohorts, and a lack of empathy are just the basic requirements, and any slip along the way can lead to missed payouts or jail time. And it only gets worse when the person you abduct isn’t quite the innocent victim you expected.
Four crooks (including You’re Next’s Sharni Vinson) plan to kidnap a young woman with the expectation that her wealthy parents will pay handsomely for her return, but after snatching Katherine (Carlyn Burchell) from her big, spooky home they immediately feel as if something is off. She doesn’t look well leading one of the crew to wonder if maybe they’ve actually rescued the girl from a bad situation.
If only they were that lucky.
Katherine warns her captors that they’ve messed up royally and should just let her go, but the pull of a ransom is too strong. When calls to the parents go unanswered two of the crew head back to the house and discover several corpses, clearly murdered and dead for days, and even as they rush back to the warehouse they realize it’s probably too damn late.
Director/co-writer Alastair Orr‘s (Indigenous) latest gives the classic O. Henry short story (“The Ransom of Red Chief”) a feature length twist with House on Willow Street by swapping out the obnoxious little kid for a woman with demonic tendencies. Of course this also means the story’s hapless and outwitted kidnappers are also destined for a far worse fate this time around.
The foursome find themselves assaulted by grim visions that at first seem built solely on graphic shock value but are soon revealed to hold more personal connections to the haunted. Guilt and grief become fodder for a malicious demon to play with resulting in gory demises at the end of sharp objects and a very determined and foul mouth tentacle. Yeah, you read that right.
There are some wonderfully creepy and grotesque visuals to be found here both in the form of practically achieved effects and CG-enhanced monstrosities, and while some work better than others they all add to the hellish landscape our woefully unprepared kidnappers find themselves in. The film’s only two locations are the dimly lit house and the even less-well lit warehouse where they’ve bound their captive, and while both could have used a bit more lighting the horrific glimpses offer disturbing breaks from the darkness.
The first of the film’s big issues though comes in its feature length. There’s ultimately very little here as once the initial revelation is made we’re left with a series of somewhat repetitive incidents where mostly indiscernible characters are left on their own, besieged by nightmare visions, and eventually succumb to the dark side. Moments work quite well, but the space between them is often familiar.
Second, and at the risk of sounding like a broken record, the jump scare audio stingers are absolute shit in their volume and ubiquitous presence. Every single scare is killed with a loud sound cue meant to make viewers jump, and while it works for some people it’s a cheap and insecure way to build fear. It’s a shame as there are visuals and sequences that are more than creepy enough on their own without this obnoxious aural intrusion.
House on Willow Street offers some minor scares alongside its intriguing setup and visuals, and while far more could have been done with it the end result may be just effective enough for a late-night watch.
House on Willow Street releases today on VOD and in limited theatrical release.