REVIEW: The Haunted House on Kirby Road
– By MovieCritic NextDoor
The summer in between graduating high school and going on to college can be a strange one. Many grand plans are made for one last adventure with the old gang, but face it — much of the time the old gang ends up hanging around in the usual places doing the usual things until it’s time to say goodbye. For a while, it looks like that’s what’s going to happen in The Haunted House on Kirby Road, with everyone staring at each other until they all fall asleep from sheer lack of excitement.
But Becca (Sammi Barber), for one, doesn’t want to let that happen and insists on an adventure. Best friend Jordan (Nina Kiri,The Heretics) is willing, but they still need an idea for this adventure. Becca’s boyfriend, the oddly-named Truggers (Austin Duffy), wants to avoid wearing anything with sleeves and get lucky. Lucky — in this case a character played by Andrew Pimento — wants to watch YouTube videos. Drew (Chris Kapeleris) and Jordan are quietly pining for each other. And Zoe (Samantha Cole) may or may not have slept with the entire football team, so you know which character type she represents.
Then one of the videos they’re watching gives them the perfect idea. Well, perfect for a horror film, not for any other situation. Someone’s posted a found footage clip of the last moments of a guy named Howard (Jesse Feinberg), and those last moments take place in the haunted house of the title, which just happens to be in their city. With varying degrees of enthusiasm, the kids pile into Truggers’ stepdad’s minivan and go looking for trouble.
Ignoring a dire warning from a police officer (Colin Price, also of Heretics) the kids find the house and break a window to get in. Considering it’s supposed to have been standing empty, luring in bored teenagers, for forty years, I’m shocked there was still a window left to break. But they get in, make themselves at home in the graffiti-covered living room, and wait for something spooky to happen. The spirits seem reluctant to oblige, however, and the group slowly disperses.
Until this point the film has nothing much supernatural or horrific — but it doesn’t need to. The film cleverly spoofs several horror movie tropes, but more than that the characters feel real despite being “the nice girl” or “the nerd” and their camaraderie seems equally genuine. Then the filmmakers apparently decide it’s time the movie lives up to its name, throw in a vengeful spirit (Mike Almos) to start killing off the cast, and things go downhill from there.
Part of the problem was that the supernatural ‘rules’ for the ghost don’t make much sense — Becca even says as much in one of the better meta-moments — and while that’s certainly not uncommon I couldn’t get past it here. The filmmakers also seemed to be trying too hard to have ‘fun’ with one of the death scenes, which became painfully long and ridiculously bizarre. The pace of the action felt off, too — characters were obligingly absent when they needed to be, but could also appear from nowhere when the script called for it.
It doesn’t suddenly become terrible — you still feel very invested in the characters, for one thing — but the last half doesn’t live up to the standards set by the first, so the best I can give it is three out of five. Had it stuck to playing with horror tropes I think it would have been a much better film, but as it is it’s still a good popcorn flick with not too much gore and some very unsettling special effects for the ghost. You’ll see the ending coming, but it isn’t a bad trip getting there.