House of Voices (Saint Ange)
Released in France as
Saint Ange in 2004 and then slipped straight into the video stores a
year later in an English dubbed form and with a new title, House of
Voices is yet another Gallic attempt to emulate American horror films.
Much like High Tension (which actually made it into the theaters) it
is highly stylized, looks gorgeous and is genuinely spooky. Also like
High Tension, it all falls apart due to a spectacularly misjudged
If High Tension is a
take on the stalker genre, this movie is an attempt at the good old
fashioned haunted house (or in this case, haunted boarding school) story.
The film takes place in 1958
at Saint Ange, a gorgeous old boarding school in a castle in the French
Alps. The huge old place is rather dilapidated and many areas are
unsafe. When a boy dies in a mysterious accident in an old bathroom,
all the students are sent away while it is determined whether the school
will be repaired or condemned.
Appearing at the school on
the very day it is being deserted is Anna (Virginie Ledoyen from The
Beach), a disturbed young woman who was beaten and impregnated in her
last position. Anna's prenatal regimen seems rather disturbing even
back in 1958 -- she smokes, drinks, carries heavy items, does hard manual
labor and she tightly wraps her stomach so that people will not realize she
is having a child. Only as the movie goes on do you realize how
totally Anna is shamed and angered by her plight and her coming child.
She is shown around the
school by the uptight outgoing headmistress (Catriona MacColl) and meets an
older matron named Helenka (Dorina Lazar) who has worked there for decades
and is in charge of keeping the old building in good shape until it the
school's future is decided.
Saint Ange is haunted by the
memory and the spirits "the scary children," a group of children who arrived
right after World War II and died mysteriously. Only one of the
children survived, Judith (Lou Doillon), a beautiful and completely deranged
young woman. Judith stays at the home with the two women because she
could not handle being moved. As Anna becomes disenchanted with
Helenka (for reasons that seem both unlikely and excessive), Anna starts to
work to get Judith to distrust the older woman as well.
While the ghosts definitely
play a big part in all this, in the end the film is more about two very
disturbed girls and how they react to the stress of the hauntings going on
around them. One of them seems like she will move forward and heal
herself. The other... well... she goes completely astray in the ridiculous
Honestly, House of Voices
is one of those rare occasions where a movie is cut just too tightly.
It does seem to run a little long at an hour forty minutes, however watching
the deleted scenes (in the original French) on the DVD many plot questions
are answered that do not make enough sense as the movie goes on. Also,
basic story points were just ignored in the final cut -- from the aftermath
of a young boy's early death to a vaguely hinted at Nazi past for the
school, which may or may not have led to the haunting.
In the end, House of
Voices does have a lot of scary moments, a truly beautiful look and does
weave an eerie spell over an audience, even as they realize that the story
makes little sense at all.
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Posted: October 22, 2005.