Subgenre: Found Footage
Summary: A group of friends set out to find the country’s most extreme haunted house.
Review: Like nearly all movies I watch, I wanted to like The Houses October Built. I knew not to go in with high expectations, but it still proved disappointing.
We open with a generic “partying documentary crew” scene, although in this case, it’s less of a crew than it is a group of friends with some nice cameras. Come to think of it, we never really get a sense of what any of these people do for a living, other than the fact that their jobs allow them to take weeklong vacations with little-to-no notice. Anyway, our amateur filmmaker-in-chief is Zack, whose goal is to find and document a truly terrifying staged haunted house – something that goes above and beyond the routine scares of the average theme-park attraction.
The Houses October Built deserves a little credit for actually attempting to feel like a documentary, accomplished via interviews with haunted house actors that feel – and for all I know, very well may be – authentic. But aside from these entertaining interludes, the plot beats will ring familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of found-footage horror: the behind-the-scenes screwing around, the slowly-introduced strange occurrences, and of course, the eventual devolvement into total chaos. For a movie ostensibly about seeking out scares that go beyond the pedestrian, The Houses October Built is wholly unaware of how ordinary it is.
But the movie’s adherence to convention isn’t what killed it for me. I’m perfectly capable of enjoying by-the-numbers found-footage horror, provided it’s well executed; take Paranormal Activity or The Tunnel. The Houses October Built’s gravest sin isn’t lack of originality; it’s inert pacing. Despite some minor exposition early on, the plot – which follows the group closing in on a mysterious off-the-map haunt – doesn’t begin in earnest until halfway through. This is also when the movie introduces its sole creepy moment: footage shot by unknown voyeur who stalks the protagonists and films them while they sleep. After the group realizes they’re being watched, there’s the expected infighting, though apparently no one’s concerned enough to abandon the trip. Until the aforementioned chaos, the mood whiplashes something fierce, with the characters either deeply rattled or dismissively relaxed depending on the scene.
I held out one last shred of hope that, considering its semi-meta concept, The Houses October Built might redeem itself with a clever ending. But instead it takes the laziest, most obvious route possible. Again, if you’ve seen any of the myriad found footage horror movies out there, you can guess what I’m talking about.
The Verdict: Aside from some enjoyable interviews and a couple of tense moments, there’s nothing in The Houses October Built worth recommending. I give it three-and-a-half atrocious attractions out of ten.