Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Monster House (2006)

Monster House (Gil Kenan, 2006)

Gil Kenan's Monster House opens ala Robert Zemeckis' Forrest Gump (1994). The camera follows an autumn leaf being blown by the wind, which is then sucked by the breeze which results from a little girl's tricycle. But unlike the feather of Zemeckis' syrupy epic, the leaf ends up being sucked inside a creaky and ominous house. The similarities between the two films end there, when a cranky old man starts scaring the wits out of the little girl, who leaves her tricycle behind in what may seem an escape to save her young life.

I thought Kenan's Monster House is a surprisingly fresh stab at the CGI-animated kiddie features market. When the market is oversaturated with almost everything and anything forced to talk and tell nasty (most of the time corny) jokes to please the young ones, Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis come up with an animated feature that is also an effective horror film --- with notable borrowings from the recent ushering of Asian horror films (a telephone call from the supposed dead brings to mind several J-Horror films), the dozen haunted house films created over the years, and the other dozen low budget monster flicks released. Yet despite the effective scare tactics, the film still remains to be child-friendly with healthy doses of typical genre humor, coming-of-age angles, and enough eye candy to make the most hyperactive toddler drool with fascination.

The story's the meat of the film. It is what practically sets the film apart from its counterparts. It's a no-nonsense suburban horror that takes the traditional moralistic goal of every kiddie pic to a minimum. It starts out a day before Halloween. Kids are preparing for their annual trick-or-treat event, but DJ (Mitchel Musso), who's on the verge of puberty, feels he's far too old to go trick-or-treating. Instead, he spies on the cranky neighbor Mr. Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi) who practically scares every kid with his nasty attitude and even nastier antiquated wooden house. DJ, his overweight friend Chowder (Sam Lerner), and prim-and-proper good girl Jenny (Spencer Locke) try to investigate the mysterious activities inside the house, when upon Mr. Nebbercracker's "death," the residence suddenly takes a life of its own and attacks and subsequently eats everything that comes near its reach.

Sure, Monster House is no comparison to the works of Miyazaki (I thought the mutated house on the rampage near the end of the film looked very similar to the bizarre monsters of Miyazaki's films), or Takahata, or any of the Japanese anime directors. Monster House still falls into that category of disposable films whose value is merely for entertainment, and nothing more. It doesn't really speak of anything new, and although its technique and attack on the subject may be fresh (the film doesn't really have a moral center which mostly covers almost all American animated films; even the rationalization behind the house's murderous activities fall under bizarre rather than distinctly understandable by a child's black-or-white level of cognition), there's nothing deep or fascinating about the overall outcome.

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