Studio: RLJ Entertainment
Director: Jessica Sonneborn
Writer: Jessica Sonneborn
Producer: Josh Hammond, Kristina Page, Christopher D. Maltauro
Stars: Juan Riedinger, Kristina Page, Aaron Massey, Megan Hensley, Michael Reed, Jessica Sonneborn, Julianne Tura, Kaylee Signore, Sarah Nicklin, Al Snow, Kane Hodder
Friends partying in a mansion that once housed a notorious brothel are haunted by the ghost of a young girl who tragically died there.
In 1898, a lecherous uncle sells his nieces Delilah and Alice to a villainous brothel owner played by Kane Hodder. Alice is renamed ¡°Alice D,¡± either because the last name of Hodder¡¯s character is Davenport or because the film needed a way to explain its title. Are all of the brothel¡¯s working girls given new last names of just one letter upon arrival? Alice¡¯s sister doesn¡¯t seem to get one. Brainwashers usually rechristen captives completely to strip their wards of previous identities, so it is not made crystal clear what the point of a single D actually is.
Already rendered hopeless after separation from her sister and indentured imprisonment, Alice meets a tragic end following a fateful encounter with Al Snow. Over a full century later, the notorious Rhode Island brothel becomes a private residence under the ownership of Davenport¡¯s great-grandson Joe. Like his forefather, twentysomething Joe is an entitled sleazebag of the most misogynist kind. So Joe loads up on booze, drugs, and hookers, and invites his best guy pals over for a night of Bacchanalian debauchery. This being a cavernous old mansion haunted by the misdeeds of 19th-century pimps and peddlers in pedophiliac prostitution, Alice¡¯s vengeful ghost has something to say about Joe and his friends following in his uncle¡¯s footsteps.
¡°The Haunting of Alice D¡± is a simple haunted house/slow burn ghost story, which is not a knock against it, merely an observation that there isn¡¯t much standing out as earning a noteworthy mention. Characters arc along standard stereotypes of aggressive chauvinist, horny stoner, misunderstood good guy, confused good girl, dimwitted sexpot, etc. Their introductions are bumbled in an odd manner that sees a number of similar people piling into act one like they are loading a clown car when act three ultimately uses less than a half dozen of these faces.
The time in between those acts ambles at a stride light on atmospheric tension because of drawn out and mistimed beats. ¡°Alice D¡± aims for a feeling closer to gothic horror than to killer on the loose slasher, but the heavy reliance on jump scares distracts from meaningful establishment of mood. Those susceptible to audio-induced jolts will have plenty of opportunities to bounce from their seats. Those requiring more meat on the bones of their thrills will have to make do with 80% buildup for a 20% payoff.
¡°Alice D¡± is refreshingly heavy on character development, which is something critics and moviegoers lament as lacking in cut-rate horror films content to populate themselves with cardboard cutouts. Unfortunately, ¡°Alice D¡± doesn¡¯t fare as well in balancing that exposition with suspense for an even-keeled pace. The plot takes so much time spinning up its scenario that anyone anxious for chills is likely to go hungry from all the waiting.
It¡¯s a small shame because some of the movie¡¯s better-designed bits involve dramatic interactions unrelated to the haunting or to the horror. Lead actor Aaron Massey features in the single best scene, which is a five-minute take of he and Megan Hensley¡¯s character getting to know one another. They play it so delicately that it reads as a genuine interchange between two people making the best of an uncomfortable situation where they would rather not be. Such moments spent seeing past surface appearances are strong, yet they don¡¯t blend seamlessly with the frights or with the fears.
In a scene where the ghost makes her first appearance to two modern day houseguests, the camera cuts to a reaction shot of the pair screaming in fright, and then lingers on them well past the point when something should have happened or the camera should have shifted viewpoints. This manner of loose editing and staging that breathes for too long is off just enough to flatten the overall attempt at tightening tension.
Once the story starts cooking, the latter half of the movie flows more rhythmically, even if the plot does follow a Ten Little Indians formula to a fault. Edges are roughened by unintentional lens flares, wonky ADR looping, and mismatched ambient noise during some dialogue exchanges. But with scantily-clad attractive actresses and an appearance by fan favorite Kane Hodder, ¡°Alice D¡± has its eye on the basic gates it needs to hit for a green circle slalom through straightforward horror appeal. It mostly gets there too, although a finish line tumble finds the film ending on a face full of snow.
The finale hits so abruptly that when the end credits rolled, I was confident that a scene must have been missing. I¡¯m writing this just half a day removed from watching the movie and I still cannot accurately recall exactly what happened, who was left alive, or who was definitely dead when it was all said and done.
Like so many indie filmmakers working with small budgets, actress turned first-time director Jessica Sonneborn is caught between a rock and a hard place with her debut feature. Her movie follows a pre-established pattern for how this sort of film always goes, and avoids unnecessary risks in the process. At the same time, keeping things so simple in terms of content and execution means ¡°The Haunting of Alice D¡± doesn¡¯t pack many surprises for genre diehards looking for fresh spins on old ideas. Sonneborn has her goals aligned in the middle of the road with what she is reasonably able to achieve, which is a perfectly wise and acceptable strategy for a newcomer. However, it also means that the final product finds itself straddling that same safe midline in the end.
NOTES: There is a brief mid-credits scene. The film is also know by the titles "Alice D" and "Tainted."
Review Score: 55