The Chair (2007) • USA

Horror films are a gamble but it's easy to tell fairly quickly when it's time to hold 'em and when it's time to fold 'em. The direction, cinematography, and character introductions reveal promptly where the film is aiming at on the stupid scale and how serious of an effort it's going to be. The Chair was shot on video but looks remarkably good to my eyes and Brett Sullivan's direction is smartly done—not so much in the way he captures the scenes but for the way he gets to them—the camera peers around a corner, or from across the room, from inside a closet, or it nestles itself on the ceiling and observes from there. It's not rocket science to make those choices for a film about a haunted house, but Sullivan's execution is inspired.

The Chair begins with a few black & white moments of spooky snippets and background data on mesmerism. Then we're brought to the present in the presence of a blond pony-tail. Uh-oh ... a quick shot of pony-tail girl from the attic of the house she's about to move into, letting us know we're not alone, and she's off to the bathtub to relax and pleasure herself. Umm ...

Alanna Chisholm plays the pony-tail and looks like she could be Nicole Sullivan's twin sister. It's her performance that makes this film a winner. Once she's out of the tub and on to developing her character it's refreshing to see she's not playing it anywhere near bimbo. She's got big expressive eyes and a quirky yet confident mixed-uppedness about her that's appealing, inviting both fear and empathy. We know she's medicated and has a history of breakdowns, which she uses to her advantage. Since she is operating under suspicion of not having both oars in the water, she is unpredictable—but never hysterical. She never imagines anything; it's all really happening. It's just up to her grad school self to find the paradigm it all fits into. When her sister and the cleavage she rode in on arrive to act as the reasonable foil, Chisholm begins playing with a cold determination that works as a transition to the possessed by the never quite dead 100 year old spirit of a killer that invades her body character.

Said spirit belongs to a man who was mesmerized right at the moment of death—while sitting in a spooky chair in the very house Chisholm now inhabits—and then buried alive causing him to remain in a state of horrifying limbo for a hundred years—a fate the mesmerist feels is worse than death for the man who killed his daughter, or something like that ... so there's some plot going on behind Chisholm's performance.

Plot is a difficult thing and even if we give it only a 3.8 on a scale of 10 it could still win a batting title. What interests me more are the nuances and subtle humor Sullivan and Chisholm bring to the proceedings, which also grant the film membership in the much vaunted Horror version2 category.

When it's time to explore the dark and secret room they discover in the house (plot), Chisholm and her sister's cleavage use one of those flashlights you have to wind up to get any light from. It's done without fanfare, making it quite funny. The big race-against-time action sequence toward the end of the film seems to fizzle out empty and unproductive, deliberately, making it funny and absurd. My favorite bits of the film, however, are when Chisholm settles down to research and does a slow roll of her neck, cracking it. Makes creepy noises.

★★★★


1 comment:

  1. That poster remarkably looks similar to Sweeney Todd.

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