Almost a century ago, the American novelist Ernest Hemingway briefly wrote for the Kansas City Star and weaved together literary portraits of American life. Barely 18 years old, the news writer learned to polish a style that ultimately led to his “Iceberg Theory” or “The Theory of Omission.” Last night, directors Aaron and Austin Keeling screened The House on Pine Street (a Kansas City production) at the Fargo Theatre, and it quickly became evident that Papa Hemingway’s magic had reached them in one form or another.
Shot in 19 days, The House on Pine Street chronicles a story of unwanted change and a failure to adapt. After moving into a modest home, Luke (Taylor Bottles) and his pregnant wife Jennifer (Emily Goss) experience the psychological trappings of the unknown future. Luke always boasts a smile, while Jennifer seems uneasy about her new environment. After all, she’s still attempting to deal with a recent traumatic experience in Chicago and painful memories from the past. Motherhood doesn’t signify a new beginning; it reminds of troubles that may come.
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And trouble does come. Jennifer’s doors of perception become unhinged; Luke tries to piece together a rational explanation. It’s not an easy task to impress houseguests when your wife stares at them like Gena Rowlands in John Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence. Speaking of Cassavetes, he starred in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, and the Keelings were undoubtedly inspired by the 1968 film, at least based The House on Pine Street’s official poster.
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Much like Polanski, the Keelings don’t rely on cheap gags to convey horror, as The House on Pine Street succeeds through outstanding cinematography and the refined acting of Goss. From the first sequence on, the camera moves slowly and frames the lead actress like she’s in a portrait. And Goss clearly understands the way an actress can tell a story with only her eyes. Jennifer doesn’t look crazy, she looks stunned. Just like the camera, Goss makes slow movements and creates a softened aura for her character. It’s one thing to simply be the lead actress in a horror flick, but it’s something entirely different to form a character worth caring about. Incredibly polished and finely acted, The House on Pine Street will surely become a hit on the film festival circuit.
Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor.