After finally seeing PASCAL LAUGIER’s MARTYRS I had to check out his earlier work. I soon discovered that his debut feature film SAINT ANGE was released on DVD as HOUSE OF VOICES and that it was readily available. Slipping the disc into the player I felt a tinge of excitement at the prospect of having no idea of what was in store for me. My first surprise as I began watching the film was the slow realization that I had actually seen it before. This wasn’t an “Oh, crap!” type of recognition, but more of confusing state of déjà vu (how French!). Why have I completely forgotten about this film? If I recalled correctly, I kinda sort of dug it.
Well, I dug the beginning anyway, because midway through I realized I was in uncharted territory. Something had stopped me from finishing this movie the first time I saw it. Did I fall asleep? Was I distracted by a phone call? Did a fire alarm go off? If I went by the consensus of IMDb commenters then I must have fallen asleep. Most of those who cared to review HOUSE OF VOICES sum up the experience as being “boring.” Well, I don’t know if I’d go that far, although its tone, dreamy, ethereal and sometimes frustratingly ambiguous does have a rather drowsy effect and its pacing well, let’s just say it’s more turtle than hare.
If you have seen JUAN ANTONIO BAYONA‘s THE ORPHANAGE or JUAME BALAGUERO’s FRAGILE (both of which were released after H.O.V.) then you have a general idea of what kind of food they serve in this restaurant. It’s set in the olden timey days and the big monster building centerpiece is really just a blown up model/map of the neurotic heroine’s booby-trapped mind. Like a Victorian ghost story it is more concerned with creating an uncanny atmosphere that subtly unsettles than clobbering the viewer with blasts of the grotesque. If you dig vague, vapory ghost tales this is your jam, if you dig giant robots that turn into cars bring a noose.
Which is not to say that HOUSE does not have a few well-timed jolts. The opening scene in particular had me nervously loosening an invisible tie that I don’t wear. What really separates HOUSE from the two Spanish language films I mentioned is that much like he did in MARTYRS, director LAUGIER throws a cinematic curve ball toward the end that seems cut and pasted from another film entirely. The director has stated that he was inspired by the thought of making an unofficial sequel to LUCIO FULCI’s THE BEYOND, an awesome idea, even though it comes across more like a mash up of JANE EYRE and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND.
It is clear after watching both LAUGLER films that this is a director who refuses to spoon feed his audience (and is strangely fearful of subterranean science labs), just as in MARTYRS, HOUSE OF VOICES leaves much open to interpretation. It is an incredibly gorgeous looking film as well, which I have to admit, for me, goes an embarrassingly long way. I don’t think I’d recommend this movie to the casual viewer, but if you are a fan of slow burners about crazy people running away from their own self-devouring heads, or if you love saying; “What the, huh?” as the film credits roll or even if you’re just curious about LAUGIER’s pre-MARTYRS work, I say give it a try. Maybe just have a cup of joe first.