After a cold open shows a brutal ritual murder committed by family man Elliot (Tony Manders), the family of Eric (Andrew Hollingworth), Hayley (Becky Fletcher), and daughter Penny (Faye Goodwin) move into the titular house and all seems well. The Joneses can start their new lives along the water, Eric can work as a mechanic, and nothing can go wrong… until Eric stumbles across a flesh-bound book one night, after a long day on the job. Though the tome creeps him out, he thinks little of it, until a series of psychosomatic phenomena set in, ranging from small wounds to demonic molestation (now that’s a phrase I never imagined using before!)
As the story of Elliot and his heinous crimes comes to light, can Eric resist the temptations and the threat of possession? Who is Smithy, the imaginary friend that Penny has made? What will bring Eric back from the brink, should the devil take him over, as it may have done to Elliot?
House on Elm Lake came ripping in with a gory cold open. At no point did it feel hokey or overdone, and the whole sequence came together nicely to set the tone for the rest of the film. That being said, the rest of the film, which could have benefitted from a few minutes’ worth of trimming and editing, manages to be a decent demonic possession horror. The gore comes in buckets when it comes at all, and the effects look to be practical, which is certainly a plus.
One of my biggest issues with this film is the acting of Faye Goodwin, which comes across as bored and uninspired. Even in the film’s climax, in which Penny plays a major role, her portrayal does very little to inspire hope in the viewer, and even less to make the viewer care about Penny, or what may happen should she not be able to deliver when the cards are on the table. Goodwin’s phoning it in was a definite black mark on the film for me.
My second qualm about House on Elm Lake was how rapey things get in the final act. There are two rape scenes in the film, and while only one is any sort of explicit, both seem gratuitous at best, and out of place at worst. Even if the idea behind them is “well, they’re possessed, that’s the only reason why they’re committing this act,” it is uncomfortable for the sake of being uncomfortable, and that doesn’t quite sit well with me. By the second instance, I was taken out of the movie, and more or less wanted it to be over.
When all is said and done, House on Elm Lake is a passable, if unremarkable, cabin in the woods meets haunted grounds horror flick. It is enjoyable to a point, though it could stand to have some bits removed in order to make a more concise narrative. The bang with which the opening comes in with is but an echo by film’s end, though, even with an admittedly fun face turn of sorts in the closing moments. As far as low-budget, independent horror, House on Elm Lake has moments in which it shines, though some content and plot devices get in the way of the luster.