'The House Across the Street': Film Review
A new arrival in suburbia attempts to investigate an apparent conspiracy in Arthur Luhn's thriller
Admirable in its avoidance of cheap shocks and jump scares, Arthur Luhn's The House Across the Street is a reasonably effective B-movie thriller that succeeds in maintaining interest throughout its fast-paced 90 minutes. Although this low-budget effort is unlikely to attract much theatrical interest, it may scare up decent VOD business thanks to its genre-worthy title (also used for a 1949 Warner Bros. programmer) and the presence of such familiar faces as Ethan Embry (TV's Once Upon a Time) and that exploitation movie stalwart Eric Roberts. Nostalgia buffs will also get a kick out of the appearance by Alex Rocco, aka Moe Green in The Godfather.
Set in an unspecified suburban town, the plot revolves around Amy (Jessica Sonneborn), fresh from Kansas, who rents an apartment in a cul-de-sac from the eager Tom (Embry). Reassured by her elderly neighbor (Rocco) that "nothing ever happens here," she soon discovers that's not exactly true, as she almost immediately witnesses the hit-and-run killing of an old woman who had been screaming at, yes, the house across the street.
Interrogated by a seemingly genial cop played by Roberts (the veteran actor can make the line "If I have any further questions, I know where to find you" seem utterly menacing), Amy finds herself increasingly curious about what's exactly going on in the seemingly abandoned house. Her intense demeanor indicates some past trouble in her life, and her fragile emotional state becomes even more apparent when she has a semi-breakdown after a pharmacist refuses to refill her prescription for anti-psychotics.
Attempting to play Nancy Drew, she attracts the attention of the local police, whose officers keep disconcertingly pulling her over while she's driving. She also becomes the victim of a hit-and-run herself, suffering a strained ankle that results in her being forced to use crutches.
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But one cop, the friendly Kyle (Josh Howard), agrees to Amy investigate the mystery, leading to an increasingly complex series of dramatic revelations that confirm her darkest suspicions.
Marred by Luhn's occasionally clunky, melodramatic script and obvious budgetary limitations, the film never reaches the Hitchcockian level to which it aspires. And its denouement, staged in the middle of the street where there are apparently no bystanders, utterly strains credulity. But the filmmaker succeeds in creating a sustained atmosphere of genuine tension, abetted by Munk Duane's tense musical score and Sonneborn's intense performance as the determined heroine.
Cast: Jessica Sonneborn, Ethan Embry, Eric Roberts, Alex Rocco, Courtney Gains
Director/screenwriter/editor: Arthur Luhn
Producers: Bill McAdams Jr., Arthur Luhn
Executive producers: Wallace F. Carlson III
Directors of photography: Shawn Greene, Zack Richard
Composer: Munk Duane
Not rated, 90 min.