There is almost no better setting for a horror film than within the walls of a house, and because it’s the place we feel safest, the genre has been exploiting them for a very long time. Directing tandem Aaron and Austin Keeling’s The House on Pine Street is another addition to the storied tales of a haunted house, one with a deep focus on subtle scares and a creeping atmosphere. In the film, a very pregnant Jennifer reluctantly returns to her hometown after an unexpected mental breakdown, where she moves into a house that starts to toy with her sanity.
Aaron and Austin Keeling’s haunted house story is a very simple, straightforward one. We’ve all seen it before—a young married couple with a baby on the way move into a charming little house, and just as soon as the lights go out on that first night, their new home goes to work on Jennifer’s fragile mind. It’s an all too familiar formula with a handful of predictable tropes that, unfortunately, The House on Pine Street falls victim to throughout its narrative. It’s lack of thinking outside the box coupled with stock-style storytelling hurts what was otherwise a fantastic, simplistically creepy approach to the genre. That was the main issue here, too, because it’s ultimately a story we’ve already heard before.
Story aside, where The House on Pine Street really hits its stride is its ability to make you feel like you’re actually in a house with something sinister stirring behind the walls. Aaron and Austin Keeling create an atmosphere grounded in a sense of realism, delivering a refreshing brand of scares that will make your skin crawl. The directors give their film plenty of room to breathe, letting the terror come naturally by building uneasy tension throughout the entire narrative. It never gets too ambitious or far-reaching, instead it roots itself in this very believable world with fundamental scares to match. The House on Pine Street takes an almost quiet approach to creating scares, resulting in the kind of horror that sneaks up on you and does a cold dance through your nerves.
There are so many haunted house movies that feel like it’s necessary to reveal all of its secrets rather than allowing the mystery of the house sink its claws into the audience. That’s part of what makes the haunted house genre have such an impact—not knowing who, or what, those random bumps in the night belong to. That was one of The House on Pine Street’s major strengths, too, was the way it manipulates the mystery of the house into Jennifer’s questionable sanity. Is the house really haunted or is she just going crazy? Most of the film’s runtime is dedicated to toying with that very question, adding a nice psychological twist to the story.
While The House on Pine Street leans on familiar ideas, it’s in that simplicity that it finds a special place in the haunted house genre. Don’t expect grand ideas and over-the-top scares because that’s not what this film is about, it’s about the idea of a house turning on the people who call it home. It’s a reminder that simple can be scary, too, and that sometimes the scariest things are a soft knocking on the door.