Monster House

Monster House. ImageMovers 2006.

Before watching the movie:

Part of the original concept for this blog was revisiting movies that I missed when they came around. I definitely remember Monster House being around in 2006. I think I even went to a theater for a different movie while this one was being screened there. I think it looked like more horror than I wanted in a movie at the time, but I can see more clearly now that it’s a children’s scary adventure movie.

I also have vague memories of it coming up in connection with the entertainment news show I worked with all through college, but I would have only started there over a year after it was released.

After watching the movie:

The scary old house across the street from DJ Walters is home to scary old man Mr. Nebbercracker, who runs out and screams at any children unfortunate enough to find themselves on his lawn. It’s long been rumored that Nebbercracker ate his wife. When DJ’s friend Chowder loses his basketball on Nebbercracker’s lawn, DJ attempts to retrieve it, but is accosted by Nebbercracker until the old man has a heart attack and collapses. Creepy things related to the house start happening, and DJ believes he’s being haunted by the man’s ghost. After staking out the house all night, DJ and Chowder save Jenny Parker from getting devoured by the house, and after the police are unhelpful skeptics, they decide they have to take action for themselves. The local expert on occult matters video games tells DJ, Chowder, and Jenny that the house is probably bound to a human spirit and they must find its heart and destroy it.

Probably for the sake of building tension, it seems like it takes a very long, often frustrating amount of time to get beyond what amounts to standing outside a house gawking. Six whole adults take their turns not believing the kids and at least half of them take the mockery too far. It didn’t feel like the story moved much between Nebbercracker’s collapse and when the kids start exploring the house.

This is early-mainstream motion capture animation and a lot of times I noticed very natural, fluid body motion. Most of the facial animation was fine, but it felt more awkward the more stylized the character design was, to the point that it seemed like some characters’ heads were wooden puppet heads with barely articulated mouths and eyelids. I don’t know if I was more distracted by it here than by The Polar Express, an earlier mocap movie, because the caricature style brought it out more or just because I’m older and more experienced and discerning in reading animation. It’s also just possible that Polar Express was better at applying or cleaning up their capture data, but since this was produced by some of the same people including Robert Zemeckis’s company, I’m inclined to suspect it’s the same technology and technique, just with two years’ iteration.

There are coming of age movies about preteens first starting to Notice each other that capture the experience with subtlety and poetry. And then there’s DJ and Chowder immediately having hopeless crushes on Jenny from the moment they meet her, culminating in her bestowing a kiss for bravery in the climax. The subplot had the art and levity of a sandbag and I did not care for the moments where it came back to the fore. It could have had potential, but Chowder basically being a prepubescent horndog for most of the movie was just the most visible of a lot of tropes that have outstayed their welcome.

This is a fun ride, eventually, with an experimental technology that winds up having a sweet story in the middle of a fantastical scary adventure. I’m probably too jaded to enjoy it as much as it deserves, but it’s worth sharing with kids for the most part, at the very least for Steve Buscemi playing an extremely Steve Buscemi role.

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