... aka: House: Confidential
... aka: Húsið
When I think of Iceland, I automatically think of three things: the country's natural beauty, year-round cold temperatures and, of course, their most successful entertainment export: musician Björk. As of 2013, the entire island nation had a population of just over 323,000 (several hundred thousand less than the least-populated U.S. state; Wyoming) so I never once thought about them having much of a film industry. Looking into it further, I discovered they do indeed have their own thing going though many of their films haven't seen the light of day outside of the country. In 1991, Friðrik Þór Friðriksson's Children of Nature became perhaps the first major cross-over film from that country, even garnering an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. As far as horror cinema is concerned, the pickings are much more slim. In fact, Húsið: Trúnaðarmál (which roughly translates to “House: Confidential”), which had been Iceland's Oscar submission in 1984 but didn't make the cut, may have been their very first feature film containing pronounced horror elements. Going by an IMDb title search, it was proceeded only by two TV movies in the genre, one in 1977 and another in 1980, but that's all. Of course, that's not set it stone. There could be others not even listed on there and this film – a psychological drama that may or may not involve ghosts and a haunted house – is currently categorized as being just a mystery. (For the record, I'd personally classify it as a psychological drama / horror).
Struggling music composer Petur (Jóhann Sigurðsson) and his wife Björg (Lilja Thorisdottir), a teacher of deaf children, are having a hard time finding an affordable flat and are forced to live with her grumpy, sickly, annoying elderly aunt (Þóra Borg), who like barges into their room without knocking and plays the TV so loud Petur cannot concentrate on his compositions. The two finally think they have a solution to their problems once Petur locates a large and suspiciously affordable old house. Its owners will be gone for two whole years and their only stipulations while they're away are to keep the place in good shape and stay out of one room which has covered furniture in it. But things aren't going all that well for for the young couple aside from what supernatural events may later transpire. Björg begins to suspect her husband is cheating on her with one of his students, violin player Asa (Helga Ragnheiður Óskarsdóttir). Asa always seems to be around getting “lessons” and he's always sneaking back in very late at night after working with her.
In the new house, Björg soon begins hearing strange noises coming from upstairs, which first turn out to be some pigeons who've gotten inside through a broken window. But the noises continue and a small blue ball - first given to her by a strange woman who's been lurking around the neighborhood - seems to move all around the house on its own. Then the bad dreams and hallucinations, which begin to bleed into her real life, start. These feature a creepy, grinning old man, his sickly wife, their young daughter and a bunch of other adults she doesn't seem to know. The central figure of her visions turns up in a photo she finds in her aunt's album and she eventually comes to the realization that people she knows, including a local grocer and her own parents, know who this guy is but are withholding information from her. Her consuming obsession with learning the truth causes her to stop eating and stop sleeping. She grows ill, starts feeling cold and has to be prescribed iron pills for anemia. She also learns she's pregnant and her husband has to go out of town for five long weeks so she'll be all by herself. Things spiral out of control from there.
If nothing else, this is a thoughtful film and it's brimming with subtext (not all of which I'm sure I understood) that seems inspired by the films of Ingmar Bergman and, most especially, Roman Polanski. What I made of it and what someone else may make of it very well could differ but, to me, this seemed very much about the fears of young wives and mothers-to-be... whether all those fears are rational or not. Though she's sometimes reluctant to voice her thoughts, Björg strongly suspects her husband is cheating on her / deceiving her and that he doesn't care about her mental state, her emotions or even her physical well-being once she becomes ill. Once she reveals she's pregnant and learns he'll be away for awhile, she then fears he's just going to abandon her. Judging by what we are shown, most of her insecurities about her marriage prove to be just. While Petur's not a monster and has his good and bad days like any of us, he proves to be untrustworthy, self-serving and immature; unable to carry his weight in the relationship either financially or emotionally.
Everything builds upon an increasing paranoia before the depressing climax, very much in the vein of two of Polanski's landmark horror films: Repulsion (1965) and ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968). From the former, you have a mentally fragile young woman being consumed by horrifying hallucinations and falling apart after being left on her own and, from the latter, you have a protagonist who grows to fear that her husband and all those around her are conspiring against her, deceiving her and / or intentionally keeping her in the dark. The director also clearly borrows ideas from Peter Medak's The Changeling (1980), including having a central character being a composer living in a large house that appears to be haunted plus a séance scene in the home and the recurring ball imagery. So yes, this treads on some very familiar ground and I'm not sure it really has anything to say that hasn't already been said elsewhere.
My personal feelings on this one are mixed. On one hand, I appreciate it for being a deadly serious, professionally-shot film dealing with adult problems and relationships in a mature way. It's well-made, well-acted, fairly well-written, intriguing and even genuinely creepy in spots. However, it's also tedious, talky and very slow going at times and certainly isn't going to appeal to all viewers out there. Whatever mystery elements this contains remain vague, unsolved and unsatisfying. The downer of an ending, while something of a surprise, just makes one wonder if they'd actually learned anything of value watching a troubled character with next to no real social support circling a drain.
The budget was around 270,000 U.S. dollars and has never been released on DVD or VHS here in America. In fact, I couldn't find a DVD box for it at all.