Tuesday, April 1, 2014

All I Want For Helena Is a Mouthful of Teeth

Evil children, tooth fairies, and Netflix Instant?


Quick Plot: Sophia is a British historian raising her daughter Helena alone in Italy after her carefree husband took off to Cancun. After a car accident robs Helena of a proper first visit from the tooth fairy, the girl becomes obsessed with collecting molars from her classmates to appease the mysterious spirit she claims to be living inside the antique wardrobe recently found in their historically fertile apartment.

Look, when I was a kid, my pals and I traded snap bracelets. The next generation, pogs, later, SillyBandz and so forth. Apparently, teeth gathering just crosses a line.

Soon Sophia is dragging Helena to a psychiatrist who is alarmed by her stories and violent drawings, especially since they seem to demonstrate that Helena has dark knowledge of a terrible crime that took place in their rented home fifty years prior.

The Haunting of Helena has one of those eye-catching covers that Netflix Instant knows how to flash. This is also a Bloody Disgusting release, and while their record is splotchy, I always hold out hope that they'll sponsor another gem like YellowBrickRoad.

In the case of The Haunting of Helena, we're much closer in line to Exit Humanity.

Like that Civil War-set zombie tale, The Haunting of Helena is a solidly made horror film. And like that Civil war-set zombie tale, it's also dreadfully paced and far less involving than it could be.

Here you have a film that opens with creepy video footage and black and white photos detailing a little known period of Italian history wherein Benito Mussolini sent poor citizens to a malaria-ridden no man's land to cultivate a new agricultural resource. That's different, and promising as some form of backdrop for a haunted child film. The problem is that The Haunting of Helena has no real idea how to connect the two. 

Sure, we get plenty of beautiful cinematography that gives us refreshingly new views of Italian architecture, but there are only so many linking shots of a creepy cemetery statue that can keep a script involving. Somewhere along the film's 90 minute running time, we get side-tracked with newspaper articles about long-past wolf attacks on local children and the recurring horror of spousal jealousy taken too far. Also, mosquitoes. Because those connect to malaria and...wolf attacks?

You can see my frustration. Lead actress Harriet MacMasters-Green is appealing enough, but she can only do so much with a 'leave my daughter alone!' character who throws in her own secret halfway through the film, only to have that ultimately mean nothing. Characters seem to enter the film at opportune moments solely to be put in danger one scene later. The timing moves from days to months to days to years, without anything really changing (a woman as stylish as Sophia would probably at least experiment with bangs or hair dye over the course of 18 months). It's like directors Christian Bisceglia and Ascanio Malgarini collected a bunch of tropes from modern ghost films (grayish color palette, old timey flashbacks, worried single mother, big-eyed child), and dropped them in a saucepan heating up Prego. The end result isn't terrible, but it's clearly so far below what it could have been. 

High Points
There's a nice twist tossed in towards the end, but the problem is, it's so much more interesting than the hour that came before it that it ultimately just made me angry to be watching the wrong movie

Low Points

Lessons Learned
In Italy, asylums for the mentally ill encourage mingling of all ages from child to disturbed adult

Just because your daughter is going crazy and there's a toothless ghost after you is no reason at all not to let your hair lose its luster

Always listen to your crazy elderly neighbors. Because if you can't trust your crazy elderly neighbors to deliver important exposition, who can you trust?

The Haunting of Helena is certainly stronger than many a low budget horror film floating on Instant Watch, but I found it incredibly disappointing. Like the recent Mama, it feels derivative of too many subgenres without fully understanding just what makes them work. 


  1. Oh, I ripped this movie apart! I agree with what you said that it's "certainly stronger than many a low budget horror film floating on Instant Watch", but that didn't make it a good movie for me (laugh). It's merely tolerable, but it's easy to get distracted and lose interest. Great review.

  2. I mean, it LOOKS really good. It's just ... not actually good other than that. I watched it on my phone while commuting to work, so between a mediocre ghost story and the same scenery I see every day, I guess it wins?