2017’s Fantasia Film Festival runs July 13th through August 2nd.
It’s New Years, and a group of friends and acquaintances have planned a weekend getaway to spend the holiday at a remote estate in rural Belgium. Cell phone reception is spotty, and the place could use a quick dusting, but the sprawling house and grounds offer a suitably impressive locale for their drink and drug-fueled escape. Unfortunately for them though escape may not be an option. Someone or something is roaming the halls, and one by one the twentysomethings are taken out of commission. Is the mansion haunted? Is there a killer among them? Or are the pot brownies just particularly strong this year?
No matter their country of origin, horror/comedies are a tough combination to pull off successfully. Too often the tonal balance between the genres becomes unwieldy, or the film simply fails to be both funny and thrilling/scary/etc. Director Tony T. Datis‘s The Mansion (Le Manoir) dodges those traps though to deliver a feature debut that blends the best elements of April Fools Day and Housebound into a highly enjoyable and frequently bloody romp.
One of the first things you notice about the film may seem minor at first but is in fact a big deal — there’s not a single unlikable millennial to be found. Watch enough ensemble horror films and you notice a steady truth in that a handful of their characters are almost always obnoxious, irritating pricks from the outset. It’s lazy writing meant to leave viewers encouraging their demise, but here we actually enjoy spending time with these casual goofballs. It’s a light enough film that we’re not left broken up by their grisly fates, but we’re not actively cheering on the killer.
There’s a terrific tone running through the film keeping viewers just slightly off kilter. From an opening featuring an unseen presence snatching up a maid to a wild boar who tells one of the revelers she should get her ass out of the mansion, the film holds its cards close regarding the threat at hand. Is it supernatural origin or are human hands to blame? It serves to add mystery to a menu that already includes big laughs and gory bits.
One extended gag involving a guy whose feet are cut off manages both as we’re left giggling even as his messy stumps leave us cringing.
The script, credited to four writers, spreads our time evenly among the group and allows each a personality beyond simply being inevitable victims. Some are naturally more interesting than others, but each of them feels a real part of a believable whole. The cast goes a long way towards that same goal, and while none are really known film quantities — several are apparently YouTube stars? — they create characters we alternately relate to or simply recognize.
Datis, a director of music videos for Katy Perry and Skrillex, and cinematographer Maximiliaan Dierickx craft a slick-looking film too. They take fantastic advantage of a locale and setting that offers both style and shadows aplenty, and the visuals never grow stale as a result. The action moves around with room to breathe, and the geography of the house becomes a clear plus as things heat up, more bodies hit the floor, and the film races towards its denouement.
The Mansion remains very funny through to the end with a dark story that holds viewers happily engaged. Equal parts wacky and disturbing, this is a winner for everyone but the dead.
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