With horror movies, the same formulas and tropes are used over and over again. There’s nothing wrong with this, as these formulas tend to do good among audiences. Sometimes these movies can take a unique turn and subvert expectations, while other times, the overused formula can get stale.

Alex McAulay’s A House On The Bayou is the first of eight films that is a collaboration between Blumhouse Television and EPIX. The film has a similar “isolation” trope used numerous times before but has a few unique twists and turns that make it differ from others. At the same time, it feels eerily similar to films such as Funny Games (1997) or The Strangers (2008), but this doesn’t make the movie any less entertaining.

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A House On The Bayou is about an estranged family consisting of parents John (Paul Schneider), Jessica (Angela Sarafyan), and their preteen daughter Anna (Lia McHugh of Eternals). To try to rekindle as a family, they go on an intimate vacation to a remote house in the Louisiana Bay. When unexpected and overly friendly neighbors arrive, the dark secrets of their family begin to unravel.

Blumhouse

The film begins with a close-up of Jessica, wearing a bright blue blouse juxtaposed to her dark, depressed eyes. She is filled with anxiety but also appears calm, patiently waiting for her cheating husband to come home, in which she will finally confront him. When John arrives, Jessica calmly tells him she knows of his affair with his student Vivienne (Lauren Richards), which he repeatedly denies until Jessica shows him full-blown proof. Instead of wanting a divorce, she wants to salvage their marriage and family, and this is when she suggests a getaway.

The lit room of the house and Jessica’s bright outfit contrasts with the dark tone of the opening scene. Although a beautiful home, everything in the place appears rather bare: dark couches, dim walls. The only brightness is from the natural lighting from the outside, shining on Jessica’s prominent crying face. Even before Jessica confronts her husband, the isolated feeling of the house highlights Jessica’s depressed demeanor. Along with the low-toned but fast-paced, anxiety-inducing synthesizer instrumental in the background, the first five minutes of the film immediately showcase the family’s slow demise.

The music turns more intense as the family drives to their getaway with a foreboding score. The once soft synths get louder, and the tone of the instrumental gets darker. While this apprehensive score plays, the beautiful scenery shows heightened trees and long roads from the countryside.

Upon arriving at the house, John and Anna make a quick trip to the grocery store. Anna meets her new neighbor Isaac (Jacob Lofland), an attractive but creepy 18-year-old who is immediately smitten. A House On The Bayou switches from drama to a sinister tone once the family arrives at their “getaway.” The fact that this film will be a horror movie is plain and clear when the cashier writes, “You’re being watched by the devil” on the receipt. Once they return home, almost right away, Isaac and his Grandpappy (Doug Van Liew) show up. The grandpa also happens to be the cashier who wrote the ominous message. They invite themselves over for dinner, and although weary, the family allows them to join. The already complicated dynamic of the family begins to shatter completely.

A House On The Bayou is filled with slow, eerie montages of the creepy house, with the same synth-heavy track from the opening playing throughout. The music right away gives a foreboding feeling of “something is wrong,” even when nothing has happened yet. The movie takes its time, but the music, ghostly house, and eerily quiet neighborhood in rural Lousiana create a surreal ominous atmosphere early on.

Bayou

The location of the film and the locals of this rural town make A House of Bayou what it is. When interviewed for wearecritx.com, director Alex McAulay explained his inspiration for the movie: “I always had this idea; I grew up in Texas. I was like, in an era where there’s still child preachers, I’d go to the state fair with my dad, and there’s like a child preacher in Children Of The Corn kind of vibe. And I’m like, yeah, I love the idea of exploring those kinds of characters. There‘s something creepy and weird about that I love.”

For the first hour, the film is a bit subpar and closely knitted to typical isolation and home invasion horror films; it strays from this in the final third act. Grandpappy plays a vinyl which is a recorded conversation between John and Vivienne, where he promises her he is going to divorce Jessica. While holding at gunpoint, Issac motions John to go outside, and John starts to scream at Isaac for not “completing the plan.” Here, it is revealed that John hired Isaac and “Grandpappy” to kill Jessica, making it easier for John to leave her with no repercussions. This seems to be the major plot twist in the film, but it doesn’t even come close, and the viewer is constantly bombarded with more twists and turns.

Vivienne is coerced to come to the house, and when she does, Jessica tells her that they are being held hostage. Trying to get help, she runs to her car but gets trapped in. In a specific grotesque and hard-to-watch scene, Anna is forced to pour gasoline on Vivienne’s car, or else he will shoot her mother. Jessica takes the gas from Anna and does it herself. After Jessica kills Vivienne, Isaac, and Grandpappy, she and Anna run as fast as they can. When Jessica and Anna arrive at the police station, the police officer reveals to Jessica that they use Isaac and Grandpappy to help “get rid of disorderly people” in order to keep the town safe. They also have been around for millions of years.

A House On The Bayou has so many twists and turns that the plot can feel muddled. What exactly is this movie trying to say? Is the message of the film about guilt and karma? Those who wrong you will get what they “deserve”? The film honestly can't decide what the central message is. It can’t decide if it wants to be more like Funny Games or The Celebration. It has some great heartbreaking moments between the family that could’ve been elongated, and also might have been better off with fewer plot twists, as it can get overwhelming. It does have some great gruesome kill scenes, an exceptional cast, but lacks in plot development. In the end, A House On The Bayou is still very entertaining, will keep audiences on their toes, and is definitely worth a watch.

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Our Rating:

3.5 out of 5 (Very Good)
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