Thoughts on “The Killing House”

While this movie was, again, relatively cheap, what grabbed me about the movie was its premise as stated on the back cover: three people trapped in a house killing each other over and over again in a competition until one of them manages to win. It also then added that they were running out of food and so might all die anyway unless they manage to come up with some other solution. Which is, I suppose, true, but is massively misleading about what kind of movie it is. For example, it suggests that the movie might well be a Saw-like movie of creative kills, but as this is an Asian horror movie — it’s Chinese, I believe — that’s not what it’s about.

For all of these things, I tend to analyze more how the movie works and issues I have with it or that the movie raises rather than do an actual review, so of course I tend to massively spoil the movie in talking about it. I’m going to do that even more so here, and this one seems relatively recent, so I’m going to continue below a fold here in case someone wants to watch it unspoiled.

The premise is more personal than the back cover implies: you have three people in a house killing each other, but the movie isn’t about them killing each other, but is instead about them trying to figure out what in the world is going on. The main character wakes up having no memory of how he got there or what is going on, and sets out to explore the house to figure all of that out, getting attack by one of the other housemates, whom he kills. But as things go on, we discover a few things that strike against that simple narrative. First, he seems to have feelings for the one female housemate, so much so that he trusts her not to kill him on a few occasions, and they spend time together after they immobilize the other housemate. Second, they have a heart monitor that also keeps them from wandering too far from the house, and it records how many kills they have, and he has the highest count and, as we discover later — through TV episodes explaining the game and showing the “highlights” — that he’s only one kill away from “winning”. Also, early on he makes a phone call and instead of connecting to his father ends up connecting to himself instead. This, then, makes for some interesting ideas about what is happening, which are lampshaded by a description of different worlds when they are brought back to life.

What’s good about the movie is that it does seem to understand that the premise is the thing that will drive the interest in this movie. While there are murders and attempts to build suspense, the movie doesn’t go very long without reminding you of the premise and the mysteries therein. That in general keeps the viewer interested enough to keep watching. The characters and actors are all reasonably well done, although the more hostile housemate is pretty shallow until he is rebooted as started over at the first time he had entered the house.

The problem with this movie, though, is that while the premise is the interesting part of the movie, the attempt at a shocking ending ruins all of that. It wasn’t really a surprise that the hidden masked villain turned out to be the main character, and that killing being the last one the main character needed to win the game made some sense, but the problem was that the purpose of the game and how those people were selected or how he ended up as the main villain was never explained. How did he come back with that number of kills but no memory of what was happening? How did he and the female housemate meet and fall in love? Or did they really do that at all? The ending has him waking up in the bar where he thought he met her the first time, as if it was all a dream, with the aggressive housemate being the bartender, and then as he goes to leave she comes in and all three of them are together, implying … what, exactly?

The issue is that when you base a movie on its premise, you have to pay off that premise at the end. There’s nothing really wrong with shocking or even confusing endings if the movie is built around a premise that supported it, but the thing that was most interesting about this movie was the mystery around this premise. But if I’ve spent the entire movie trying to puzzle out and waiting for the explanation of the mystery, I’m going to be disappointed if I don’t get that answer at the end.

Given the explanations in the movie and the scenes as displayed, my guess is that this is some sort of purgatory — there are strong hints of it being an afterlife — with a set-up similar to that of The Nonary Games, with both multiple if not infinite variations on the existing world and also different possible worlds. While the movie implies that the variations on worlds was only in play for “The Killing House” portion, it is entirely likely that the bar scenes are also different worlds, and not the “real world” as implied. Which is an interesting concept, and would have actually been an interesting premise to explore if they had a) made it clear that that was the case in the movie and b) had taken advantage of the different worlds and perhaps a progression of worlds idea itself instead of focusing on “The Killing House”. As it is, all it does is make me think that an actual Nonary Games movie would really work.

It was an okay movie. I might be tempted to watch it again, as the ending doesn’t trump the good parts that happened in the rest of the movie.

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