In The Remains, writer/director Thomas Della Bella whips up his best Amityville Horror impression without coming within miles of the long-standing genre classic. So many scenes skirt around an obvious possession situation that clueless characters miscalculate, as we’re supposed to believe a grieving family had no idea they were moving into a cursed death house.
Scares are bare-minimum mundane – evoking the essence of Wan without any flare – and performances call for help that’s never provided via style or substance. What little creativity Della Bella works into his story is floundered through executional boredom, while viewers are kept waiting for something more than haunted house clichés to scare up excitement.
Frankly, you’ve seen this all before, done a hell of a lot better, and not much worse.
Todd Lowe stars as a father (John) whose family is looking for a fresh start, which they hope to find in their new Victorian home. Upon moving in, John’s youngest children discover a box with some old antiques. A doll, a camera and some other items from a bygone era. John thinks nothing of the junk, until events start occurring that can’t be explained by rational thought. After snooping around a bit, John finally realizes that his fixer-upper used to be a “House Of Spiritualism,” and unfortunately for the new inhabitants, a few old guest refuse to leave the premises.
The old woman who haunts John’s property goes by “Madame Addison” (Maria Olsen), and her connection is explained through never-discarded “remains” left in the house. Sounds a bit crazy, but not as crazy as John’s complete ignorance to his new home’s dark past (despite every side-character and their mother hinting at it). The pizza guy, his neighbor, the realtor – whenever John brings up the house’s past, characters might as well be tugging on their collars while comical amounts of sweat pours down their face. No actor sells Madame Addison’s secret with believable conviction, which fails mightily to create any sort of suspense or natural conversation. “Man, this deal is too good to be true!” Well maybe that’s because you didn’t read the fine-print “SUPER GHOST DISCOUNT!” clause.
Della Bella struggles to gel his wholesome Americana family, complete with two curious youngsters, a rebellious teen, and a single father who recently lost the love of his life. It’s all so predictably generic in the most photogenic way, right down to a goth-punk “badass” who listens to angsty screamo and sighs uncontrollably whenever John directs any dialogue her way. Not to harp on child actors, but no performance stands out against such coldly-acted material, and Lowe isn’t very much help. This is the signature Hollywood family you’ve stereotyped in your head a thousand times, brought to life amidst a graveyard of overused horror devices.
There’s nothing particularly scary about The Remains, as most jolts come from intercut splices of Madame Addison’s makeup-caked face cackling like a wicked witch. As scenes press on, John’s children (played by Hannah Nordberg and Dash Williams) slowly become brainwashed by Madame Addison’s controlling grip, but never in a Children Of The Corn kind of way. You’ll get your random shots of a ghost girl standing in the background, a few jump-scares via a darting camera lens that eventually lands on a decomposing face, and that’s about it. Performances drag doubly-so given Della Bella’s flat-footed attempts at horror set-ups, even when Madame Addison’s phonograph blasts an old-timey tune (usually a tonal slam-dunk). We’ve all creeped around our homes in the dead of night, and vividly recall what housebound fear feels like – it’s a shame Della Bella fails to recreate that same paranoia.
It’s funny, because I just got finished writing a Viral review that speaks to how Video On Demand horror isn’t a stigma anymore, but here we are, talking about a film that encompasses everything you fear when hearing about some “straight to VOD horror movie.”
The Remains is duller than dull, and does nothing to make navigating the housing market any scarier than it really is. First timer Thomas Della Bella has a few *brief* promising moments in his feature debut (adapted from his short film, Open House), but this is a step below forgettable compared to even the five or so VOD releases this weekend alone. Rigid acting, zero chills and an ending that’s equally rushed and unfulfilling? A perfect trifecta of “NOPE!” for horror fans to immediately disregard.
As I’ve said a thousand times over by now, anyone can make a horror movie, but it takes more than effort to etch your name in genre relevance…
The Remains wants to be a James-Wan-inspired haunted house flick, but can't even outshine the short film it's based on.