Hannah House

We return – as we do from time to time – to the silent film of today, and to Hannah House. This is an independent modern horror film, shot as a silent (intertitles and all). The filmmakers are Chad and Max Smith, who claim that their tale of prairie life in 1904 is based on a true story (sigh), as a young family uncovers the horrid details of a house with a past. But though one might argue that we’ve been here before, and on many occasions, the style – from the trailer at least – is distinctive, going beyond pastiche to find something in the silent method and digitally aged look that genuinely complements its subject, with the look of decay echoing the corruption expressed in the film’s story, as the publicity blurb indicates:

Set in 1904, a young couple desiring to own land is convinced by a distant cousin to leave their comfortable city life to pursue homesteading in the Nebraska Prairie. A neighbor’s house and land has become vacant, and the couple is told they can have it. Possibilities of a new life and future for their unborn child overshadow any questions about what happened to the previous occupants of the house. Based on a true story, this chilling account written, directed and produced by brothers Chad and Smith portrays the hardships and desolation of prairie life as the young family unearths the horrifying details of the house and its past.

Hannah House, essentially a silent film, utilizes visual textures similar to those that occur now in many of the decomposing silent films from the 20’s. By capturing the imperfections of scratches, skips, dirt and trapped hairs, the result is like watching a painting of the desolate prairie come alive, and are also used as a narrative element to further the disturbing tone of this film.

Modern silents tend towards comedy, so this makes for a welcome change, though we have seen a few other examples of modern horror silents: Andrew Leman’s stylish H.P. Lovecraft homage The Call of Cthulhu (2005), Guy Maddin’s Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary (2002), and most recently Jim Towns and Mike McKown’s Prometheus Triumphant (2008). It’s hard to tell just from a trailer, but it looks like Hannah House differs from the others, which adopt a style to capture a haunted mood, instead placing modern horror conventions in an alien setting. Either way, the films find a relevance in the silent film style that lies well beyond pastiche.

Hannah House was made by the Smith brothers’ Monkey Angel Studios and is available through the video-on-demand service Shiny Object Digital Video and on DVD in the UK. According to IMDb it was made in 2002, but doesn’t seem to have been seen much before 2005/06.

And, if you must, you can discover the ‘true’ story behind Indianapolis’ Hannah House (“the house that reeks of death”) here.

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