A sincere, bloody effort to color outside the horror lines, The Ladies of the House creates a good, creepy situation for bad, wretched things to happen.
It starts with two men watching an exotic dancer gyrating from the dark safety of an upstairs lounge. The straight-laced Jacob (Gabriel Horn) is treating his full-figured brother Kai (Rj Hanson) to a birthday celebration at the club. Kai is reluctant to partake fully of the fleshly delights on view, and Jacob hesitates to push him, so it’s up to their boisterous friend Derek (Samrat Chakrabarti) to get the party started.
The trio manages to freak out one of the dancers, Ginger (Michelle Sinclair), but that doesn’t stop Derek from talking his buddies into following her home. Derek then talks his way inside, which is, frankly, more a reflection on Ginger’s utter loneliness than on any charm he displays.
Once the group is inside the house, we know something horrible will happen. With three horny men surrounding one sad-eyed woman, plus the presence of alcohol, it’s inevitable. The twist is that Ginger doesn’t live alone; she lives with three other women in a house owned by one of the other exotic dancers, and they’re on their way home.
Director John Stuart Wildman, who also wrote the script with Justina Walford, establishes a deliberate pace from the outset, so there’s no mistaking the film for a thriller. But neither is it a suspense piece, even though the three male friends are supposedly trapped inside the house. (Somehow, one of them walks out without any trouble, but is then talked back inside by one of the ladies because he’s “not all there” mentally; let’s just call that a loose end.)
Really, The Ladies of the House falls into the increasingly rare territory of a horror drama. It’s ‘old school’ to a certain degree, closer to the type of horror movies that were more prevalent out of Britain in the late 1960s and early 1970s, where thematic concerns took precedence over explicit shocks. While Ladies has its fair share of blood and guts, and even a tiny flash or two of naked flesh, it is primarily focused on the relationship between three women.
Lin (Farah White) owns the house and is a natural born leader. She’s in a loving relationship with Getty (Melodie Sisk), which proves to be somewhat distracting when they arrive home to find things disheveled. Lin is more interested in sex than in surveying the mess in the living room or checking in with Ginger, so she guides Getty into their bedroom, not realizing that someone is hiding underneath it. Eventually, Lin asserts her leadership role, leading to dire consequences for the men, and a strengthening of her ties with her housemates.
Crystal (Brina Palencia) is the one whose true motives are more obscure. She is taken with
Jacob, and in other circumstances her interest might be construed as romantic or sexual attraction. In this bizarre setting, however, it’s not clear if she is acting on hormonal or homicidal impulses, which adds a delicious layer of mystery to the proceedings.
Once everything is set up, The Ladies of the House stalls out to a large degree, confined by its own self-imposed limitations. It leans toward torture porn, but then pulls back. It gestures toward a feminist view of certain horror tropes, but grinds down in conversation.
Still, as a veteran horror-movie viewer, I appreciated the movie’s resistance of cliches and appetite for more thoughtful, if no less disturbing, depravity. The film’s greatest achievement may be in recognizing that the most terrifying people on Earth are those who don’t think they’re all that scary.
The film will be available to watch on a variety of Video On Demand platforms starting on Friday, May 1. Visit the official Facebook page for more information.