DIRECTED BY: Brett Sullivan
FEATURING: Alanna Chisholm, Lauren Roy, Nick Abraham, Paul Soren
PLOT: A new tenant in an old house is sucked into a sordid, violent riddle when she
discovers evidence of sick psychological experiments.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The Chair offers a novel twist on the age old soul possession concept, as seen in films such as Child’s Play or The Skeleton Key. That twist is perverse and unsettling. The movie becomes puzzling when parts of the story are told non-sequentially, from changing perspectives. While it may have an unconventional feel, The Chair is still a more or less standard horror story about a soul seeking a new host.
COMMENTS: Don’t be fooled by the opening shots when you watch The Chair. It is not as customary as it appears to be. It tricks the viewer. Not fast-paced enough to be a horror-thriller, The Chair is an imaginative horror-mystery with puzzler and shocker elements. The film develops it’s storyline differently than other supernatural vehicles.
Here is the setup: Danielle rents a creepy Victorian house (is there any other kind?) where slightly sinister things start to occur—slowly. Due to the mildness of the events, and because the movie would last all of five minutes if Danielle left, she doesn’t think of simply moving out.
Oh, and conveniently, Danielle is a psychology student with an interest in the paranormal. She wants to capitalize on the spooky bumps in the night and investigate them to have material for her senior thesis. (Apparently Danielle has enough imagination to take an interest in parapsychology, but not enough to pick a no-brainer psychology research topic like ‘partial reinforcement similarities between cocaine and World Of Warcraft.’) Lucky for us, because someone has to stick their neck out or we would be watching another mild-mannered Poltergeist retread.
And so Danielle pokes around the creaky manor and turns up eerie hidden rooms, bizarre metaphysics documents, disturbing furniture, and puzzling mechanical parts. All of this leads her to discover that an occult scientist a century before found some very interesting uses for mesmerism when he dabbled in suspended animation, the trapping of souls, and other funny business. The results of his efforts created a lasting malevolent presence in the house—a sadomasochistic one, and it has a kinky agenda.
But what does this have to do with Danielle? Plenty, as she, her ex-boyfriend and stacked, very chummy sister (and occasional bedmate) soon discover. Even Danielle’s psych professor is secretly in on the game, and the rules smack of perversion, sadism, astral projection, possession, self mutilation, cannibalism and good old fashioned torture. Danielle is drawn in against her will and becomes a minion of the past, skipping class to construct antique torture devices which will surely raise awkward questions later.
The Chair starts out like a superficial teenage girls’ ghost story. As the context was gently and unpretentiously established in the first twenty minutes, I feared I’d stumbled upon another What Lies Beneath or Stir Of Echoes. The viewer is lulled into predicting the following event sequence: girl moves into possessed house, spooky things happen, she is scared but never in real danger, helpful friends save the day by chasing the phantom away. Yawn. We’ve seen that all before, right? This is not what happens.
The tone becomes grim and the plot takes a perverse turn. Danielle is on psychological medication, which she of course stops taking. Thus it becomes difficult for her, her doting sister, and her former beau to determine where lies the truth. With mild shadings of Rashomon, the conundrum becomes convoluted when events are conveyed via triple subjective viewpoints.
It is uncertain whether or not this technique in The Chair is a gimmick to inflate the simple premise, or if it constitutes a commendable attempt at unconventional storytelling. It works, but it makes the plot challenging to follow.
The resulting ambiguity captures the imagination and spurs thought. This is a plus for the pensive viewer. The most compelling story element is what the mad occultist was up to; that really could have provided a substantial plot in itself. Such an idea holds the potential to be more interesting than Danielle’s subsequent interaction with the fallout of the man’s experiments, but the writer missed the mark. Despite the fact that the idea failed to reach the next level, The Chair is worth the watch.
Unconventionally structured, the movie is Canadian and so it lacks the product placements, clichés, and obligatory casting of family-friendly lead actors which tend to challenge a viewer’s ability to suspend disbelief. While not the most ingenious or profound movie ever made, The Chair is a godsend for horror fans weary of the same old Hollywood surplus cheese.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…director Sullivan cannily piles creepy scenes one on top of the other like an expert bricklayer, generating suspense through the most mundane things – such as the whine of a hand-cranked flashlight, which goes dead at the most inopportune moments. The cast is also first-rate, crafting realistic characters that believably inhabit this off-kilter world… Calling The Chair old-fashioned may seem like a backhanded compliment, but the intention is just the opposite: I wish more modern horror films would take the time to assemble a solid story that truly involves the viewer, and envelopes them in its atmospheric world-building.”–J.E. Smith, PopSyndicate.com
The Chair trailer