The occult horror subgenre, a strange attraction for the horror and thriller fans, it attracts so many viewers, that mysterious appeal, enhancing each film in a different manner. Director and writer James Crow (Nightmare on 34th Street ), mixes a strange potion of British crime thriller and supernatural horror twists, yet keeps everything in a tight simmer with solid characters and hidden motives. His script develops wonderful shifting tones, splashes of colorful images, and carefully massages into an occult thrill ride, solid pacing and yet teasing in more grim themes, and a twist ending. In a refreshing turn, the distribution of the movie comes from Wild Eye Releasing, a company perhaps maturing with the latest releases of thrillers, recalling they unleashed a flick called Cruel Summer (2016).
Liam Kelly plays Josh phenomenally well portrayal of a boy whose home appears peculiarly odd, as if looking at a puzzle with missing pieces. Quickly enough turmoil sets into his world as he’s abducted by a gang of criminals in clown masks, taken roughly from his babysitter Tanya (Nalan Burgess). However, kidnappers get more than they bargained for with this targeted child, all reasons for his adduction thoroughly unclear. The gang led by a level-headed bruiser Jacob (Les Mills, acting in his first feature and making quite an impression), seems to know more than the others, especially when speaking with the secretive Client (Steve Williams). He along with his daughter Anna (Jessica Arterton, also her first role), tries to keep the gang, focused on the task at hand, working on a ransom at a very nice hidden away manor, a place with obvious hidden cameras and other secrets. Soon enough, though Anna and her love interest Jack (Jack Brett Anderson (Don’t Hang Up ) start exploring and find a very twisted box of videotapes. In addition, Anna keeps battling personal demons and sorrow for Josh, relating back to a troubling childhood of her own.
Crow slowly builds unease into the story with continue heighten of devilish thrills and sinister foes, as it leans into the home invasion genre, though not completely needed for the overall production. Meanwhile, Josh keeps his stuffed lamb Saint Peter tight in his clutches as a nightmarish vision plagues him, making him all more important to the sinister forces. Another client also exists, with the name of Lord Arthur Salem (Tony Fadil (The Howling )), adding to the intrigue comes the common clichés of cut phone lines, slashed tires, and unable to connect to the parties which hired the gang.
An extended second act might seem as an overburdening to the viewers but, the frustration, is actually a slow reveal of layers of suspense and the gang brooding waiting game, heightens everyone’s behaviors. This allows the characters to express themselves the terror factors are slightly absent in a few key moments, which greatly helps the creepy sinister motivations buried well under the surface. As an independent feature, it works nicely, though the true horror fans likely find themselves panning the movie, as the gore is greatly missing, but again this is more of a thriller than horror. Crow does make wonderful usage of the location, a spooky large old home, with darkened halls and mysterious rooms generating some anxiety and isolationism conjuring by the wooded surroundings. A simple story from the first act, but the supernatural occultism excels nicely by the final act, showing cruelty toward the innocent, while unbridled corruption of morals and free will reign supreme, or do they.
One needs to understand this film definitely appeals to the fans of British horror, namely the character construction and development as well as the storyline, which follows the path of a crime thriller, with droplets of mystery, more than sheer terror. The lack of overwhelming bloodshed and gore may find some in disappointment, but House of Salem gives a compelling movie of suggestible occult layers as it plays off the word ‘Salem’.
IMDb Rating: 4.7/10
Baron’s Rating: 5/10