It’s Halloween, and for DJ (Mitchel Musso) and his friend Chowder (Sam Lerner), that normally means trick-or-treating. But DJ has other things on his mind, like the obvious onset of puberty and the awkward moments that go along with that time in his life. So Chowder is naturally taken aback when DJ announces he will not be trick-or-treating, a tradition that the two have kept for many years.
Then there’s DJ’s obsession with the cranky neighbor across the street, Mr. Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi), who constantly bolts from his rickety house to run children off his property and confiscate their toys. DJ has been spying on Nebbercracker through a telescope in his bedroom, making notes whenever Nebbercracker makes another appearance.
But when Chowder clumsily drops his brand-new basketball and it rolls into Nebbercracker’s yard, DJ is reluctant to attempt a rescue mission. The two risk it anyway, but soon Nebbercracker comes storming out of his house to scold the boys for walking on his grass. But in the middle of his rebuke, Nebbercracker promptly keels over. And when an ambulance comes to retrieve the lifeless man and doesn’t bother with sirens, the two conclude that Nebbercracker must be dead. Meanwhile, Nebbercracker’s house is now without its master, which boils over its already short temper.
You see this is no ordinary house. Its windows are eyes. The front door is a mouth, complete with a sprawling carpet that serves as a tongue that lashes out at trespassers, dragging them down into the abyss.
No one learns her lesson better than Jenny (Spencer Locke), an overachieving prep-school girl trying to sell candy for a school fundraiser. She unknowingly walks right up to the infuriated house and rings the doorbell. And soon it unleashes its rage, and only with the help of DJ and Chowder is she able to escape alive.
With a little research, the group soon learns that the house and the surrounding property are possessed by the spirit of Nebbercracker’s wife, who dies tragically while the house was being built. Nebbercracker felt it his duty to finish the house in her honor, only to learn that her angry spirit had no intention of resting in peace. Now, with no master to keep the spirit at bay, the house is about to unleash its rage on a parade of helpless trick-or-treaters, unless DJ, Chowder, and Jenny can stop it first.
Monster House may possibly be the first horror film directed to a pre-teen audience. Its goal is to scare you, and, with the use of some clever camera angles and creepy sound bites, it does just that. Children like to be scared and director Gil Kenan makes sure they are without going overboard. House isn’t violent by any means but instead is more like the popular book series from the ’90s, Goosebumps, which surprised and scared its readers while abstaining from unnecessary blood and gore.
House also perfectly illustrates the memories of childhood: the anticipation of Halloween, the struggles with babysitters, the trips to the video arcade, and the conspiracy theories that (almost) always were completely wrong.
The film further impresses with its crystal-clear animation process, which uses live actors to animate over, which emphasizes both the movement and articulation of the character. In fact, the motion of the characters is so fluid and effortless, at times it is difficult to believe it isn’t live-action.
The film is cast cleverly, as both the lead roles are newcomers, where better-known voices are left to the supporting roles (i.e. Maggie Gyllenhaal and Fred Hillard). By doing this, the filmmakers can still utilize recognizable talent but use fresh voices as main characters, therefore not allowing the audience to make judgment calls based on the voices they hear (for example, we probably wouldn’t view DJ the same way if his voice was that of Haley Joel Osment or another young, well-known actor).
Monster House has the potential to be a must-see Halloween movie, which makes me wonder why the filmmakers chose to release it in the summer instead of choosing a more time-appropriate release date. Nevertheless, Monster House is a delightful, low-key family horror film (if there even is such a thing) that combines some genuinely scary moments with hilarious one-liners that will surely attract thrill-seeking nine-year-olds and their reminiscing parents from across the country. 4 stars.
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