The Vacant House (2008)

DVD Cover (Golden West Films)
Ray Etheridge Ray Etheridge
Brittany Jane Arroyo Brittany Jane Arroyo
Patrick Campion Patrick Campion
Benjamin C. Clark Benjamin C. Clark
Tracy Donovan Tracy Donovan
Ricky Dunlop Ricky Dunlop

6.0 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Genres / Traits: Haunted House Film, Mystery, Supernatural Thriller, Thriller, Halloween
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Review by Chad
Added: June 25, 2008
It seems as though zombie films and "torture porn" are the go-to films for young, broke filmmakers who want to make a name for themselves, and I've always thought that it was odd that more of these guys and gals didn't instead turn their attention to the haunted house genre. After all, you'll need some good makeup and gore effects to make a memorable film in either of the two aforementioned genres, but for a haunted house flick? You simply need a house to shoot in, and I think that we all have access to one of those. Created with a budget of just $2,500 by the husband-and-wife team of Ray and Migdalia Etheridge (he wrote and directed, she produced), The Vacant House takes this idea and runs with it. The end result? A film that proves that you don't need deep pockets to tell an engaging story.

We begin with a happy couple - John (Patrick Campion) and Kathy Burns (Sarah Murphy) - who have just scored the deal of a lifetime: they've purchased a huge house (to quote them, "our old apartment could fit in one of these rooms... and there's five rooms!") at a very cheap price. Best of all, this seems to be a nice place, and contrary to what they may have thought before they signed the papers, there's really nothing wrong with it regardless of the insanely low price. Too good to be true, you may ask? You bet your ass it is.

The issues with the house come to light when some of their friends show up to throw a combined Halloween and housewarming party for the proud new homeowners, and in keeping with the spirit of Halloween, they've brought along medium Floyd Harper (Alexander Leaty) for entertainment. The plan is to get drunk, bullshit with one another for a while, and then communicate with the dead; I mean, the guy is surely a scam artist, but it'll be fun... right?

As it turns out, the guy is the real deal, and after proving the validity of his practice by talking to the deceased relatives of those in attendance, he makes a shocking revelation: one of the partygoers is a murderer. As if knowing that one of your closest friends could very well be a murderer wasn't bad enough, John and Kathy soon discover why they got their house for so cheap: it's haunted by the spirit of a young lady who is apparently trying to tell them something.

What may shock you the most about the film is not how the filmmakers managed to create an entertaining and effective film with an extremely modest budget, but the genre that it happens to fall under. You're probably thinking to yourself: murderers, psychics, ghosts, haunted houses... it's a horror film, right? Not really, no. While it could be successfully argued that it has horror elements, the film is more of a thriller or even a mystery than anything else, and I have to admit that I was a bit shocked at this discovery. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing, as again, the storyline for this one is quite interesting. I can't say that it's completely original and unique, but if the presentation is good, then can you really complain about this amidst a flood of sequels, remakes, and knockoffs?

What's even more surprising about the film is how clean it is. While I have no problems with mindless violence and gratuitous T&A, it seems as though too many filmmakers rely on these crutches to support their film instead of, you know, telling a good story. This is not the case with The Vacant House, as the film is almost kid-friendly at its core. Granted, it deals with murder and angry spirits, but there's not a single drop of blood or a single boob to be seen throughout the entire affair; in fact, I don't even recall any profanity being used. The filmmakers instead opted to entertain with the story alone, and thankfully, said story was actually pretty damned good. Again, it's not the most original film on the face of the planet, but it is an entertaining one nonetheless.

Now, when you combine these two facts, you really shouldn't go into this one expecting lots of scares or tense moments, because you're not going to get that. What you do get is a storyline that takes its time unraveling while dropping clues throughout the entire thing to keep you interested, and you also get some entertaining conversations amongst the characters that may not be very important in the grand scheme of the film but are fun to watch regardless.

Take, for example, the Halloween party that opens the film. This scene runs for twenty or thirty minutes, and besides introducing us to the characters, nothing vital to the storyline takes place here. We meet the stars of the film, we learn about Floyd's powers, and we discover that the locals believe this house to be haunted - this could easily be condensed into a thirty-second trailer, but in the film, it takes up a large chunk of the running time. So, why am I praising it? Simple: the conversations that these characters have are entertaining as hell. When Floyd starts describing the dead relatives of the partygoers in astonishing detail, when we see their reactions to this, and when we learn about the murderer in their midst... this is all great stuff. It's not Quentin Tarantino, but it's in the same vein and is quite fun to watch.

Recommended for fans of thrillers and mysteries who enjoy a little bit of the supernatural thrown in for flavor, and also recommended for those of you who want to see how far a little bit of cash can go in making an entertaining film. 8/10.
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