House of Black Wings Reviewed

Monday, August 23, 2010

As the years soldier on since H.P. Lovecraft's death, it is a blessing and an honor to his legacy that Lovecraftian films are growing as capable in their performance as the diversity of their permutations. House of Black Wings, a 2010 release by writer-director David Schmidt under Sword & Cloak Productions, is another such success. The film effectively balances Lovecraftian cosmic menace with a cast that seems real, sympathetic, and tainted. Startling dream sequences and genuinely creepy art works inside the Blackwood, the dated apartment complex where the film's events occur, help bring its powers to fruition.

Schmidt's film carries a small cast of characters, and two struggling female protagonists drive the action. Kate Stone, played by Leah Myette, is a failed musician whose tragically abbreviated career leads her to the tenement managed by her old friend, Robyn Huck (Katherine Herrera). This landlord is an embattled artist in her own right, creating grotesque dollhouses, which constitute a distinctive and original eerie backdrop. The relationship between Kate, Robyn, and several alienated tenants is the sole bastion of humanity after outre forces begin making themselves known.

House of Black Wings' weird horror elements blend the traditional haunting with mysterious Lovecraftian entities from intangible black gulfs. By the film's climax, the tapestry of strangeness is nearly overwhelming: we see the ghostly presence of a 19th century singer, hear a curious fairytale that only mystifies the legendary origin of the movie's eponymous bat like creatures, and experience a slurry of imagery that crushes the dream-reality barrier. Dreams play an important and subversive role throughout the production. Although each oneiric sequence's shock endings become slightly predictable after the first few, each is pulled off in a way attentive to weird atmosphere. Virtually every vision seems like a successful and tasteful translation of dark fantasies from mind to cinematic record.

It is that atmosphere which marks this production as truly unique. The unknown nature of the apartment's spectral influences generates a claustrophobic air that dominates all others. Pipes, drains, and walls are especially loathsome, inner recesses of malevolence that mirror the bleakness within both main characters. Atmosphere is cautiously maintained throughout the film's duration by clear detail to pacing. Weird phenomena are interspersed with clues about the evil at hand, and viewers are given just enough time to digest these strange parcels before another drops.

Ultimately, Kate and Robyn are forced to confront all the horrors aligned against them, as well as persistant memories of violence and failure that pre-date the Blackwood's far more sinister challenges. The uncertainty about whether or not the demons have really been vanished, both inner and outer, by the journey's end is adeptly portrayed in the best tradition of horror cinema's lingering ghost. Possible escape offers relief, but not closure, and this is all well as far as the audience should be concerned. The sheer number of numinous occurrences and inexplicable sights would be cheapened by a real defeat of the terror.

Besides being commendable for its performance and bizarre aesthetic, House of Black Wings, marks another innovation in Lovecraftian cinema. It shows that, with the right balance, cosmic horror can be combined with other supernatural threats and need not be cheapened by plot mixing in human emotion. Consider this a liminal production, a cinematic bridge to the future. House of Black Wings offers a fleeting glimpse of what a big budget Hollywood Lovecraftian film could look like in a flashier suit one day, and stands as an evolutionary winner in today's small but growing niche of independent horror films.

-Grim Blogger

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