It’s difficult to forget the past, but that’s what Maggie Conley (Rachel Marie Lewis) and her husband, Chris (Christian Oliver), are trying to do in director David Mun’s feature debut, House of Good and Evil. Maggie and Chris have a particularly haunting past to put behind them, one that includes verbal arguments, physical abuse, and the devastating loss of their unborn child. Intent on starting life anew, Chris and Maggie move out of their apartment in Baltimore and head deep into the Virginia woods to live in a rustic, white clapboard duplex.
The Andersons, an elderly husband and wife living in the other half of the duplex, will be their only neighbors for miles before they move out in a month’s time. Before they can even finish unpacking, though, Maggie realizes the isolated, possibly haunted house actually enables Chris’s hostile nature, putting her sanity and very life in jeopardy.
Creating scares through creepy parallels between the Conleys and the Andersons, muffled suggestive noises heard through the walls, and an ominous blue door reminiscent of Apartment 5’s door in Rob Zombie’s The Lords of Salem (2012), House of Good and Evil is a pure psychological horror effort. Working off a script by Blu de Golyer, Mun uses old-school methods to create an increasingly uneasy atmosphere that builds to a hot-blooded climax. For the most part, Mun bypasses CGI-based shocks for the more enduring scares that chilling dialogue and a beautiful but haunting shooting location provide. “Conley Manor,” as Chris dubs the duplex, becomes its own character in the film, squishing Maggie’s psyche with its stark white walls and taunting her with its lack of phone lines and good cell phone service. Showing off its staggering height in exterior long shots, the house reminded me of the Lutz home in The Amityville Horror (1979).
Not to be overshadowed by her environment is the lead actress of the film. Lewis does a fantastic job portraying Maggie’s vast and varied emotional states. On the fence between forgiveness and hatred, part of Maggie wants to forgive her husband and live happily ever after, but a bigger part of her worries his violent past isn’t content to stay buried. The mysterious disappearance of her cell phone charger and Chris’s return to drinking only amplify Maggie’s unease. Lewis is believable as a woman whose mental health is suffering from having walked this fine line of emotions for too long. She makes Maggie accessible to viewers as a heroine worthy of our worries.
Bringing a threatening presence to every scene he’s in, Christian Oliver effectively blends his hot temper with the house’s secluded locale to make a claustrophobic concoction. Most of the time he’s able to mask his violent underbelly just enough to make you wonder if Maggie perceives him as worse than he actually is. But with his occasional outbursts and increasingly suspicious departures from the home, Oliver maintains a villainous edge to Chris that gives the character and the story another sinister dimension. I didn’t even think Maggie over-exaggerated when she kept an axe near her side for protection.
The film has a nice viewing pace, as screenwriter de Golyer’s script expertly switches between fast-paced scares and slower-paced character development. Some of the quieter moments were my favorites, such as when Maggie spends time with her elderly neighbor, Mrs. Anderson, played by Marietta Marich, whom horror hounds will recognize as Luda Mae Hewitt from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006). Chatting over tea and walking along the wooded trails, Marich as Mrs. Anderson is spellbinding. “They’re all monsters, Maggie,” she says of their husbands, “The only difference is they’re in your bed instead of under it.”
Mun’s crafty work behind the camera, combined with his game cast and authentically spooky shooting locations, make House of Good and Evil worth checking out if you like psychological horror, haunted house thrillers, and even romantic dramas with a supernatural slant. I would have welcomed a less-rushed and bit more explanatory finale, but the journey up to the end was more than memorable enough to leave me feeling satisfied… and deeply unsettled!
Movie Score: 3.5/5