September 15, 2017
First time director William Scherer’s House on Rodeo Gulch is a thriller full of fun if you don’t take it too seriously.
Newlywed Denise (Chanel Ryan) has moved her teen step-daughter Shani (Megan Jay Simrell) to California against her will into a beautiful house in the woods. Shani’s father Bill is an Army ranger deployed to the Middle East. As they await his return to start their new life together strange events occur in the new house that seem to be somehow related to the unsettling and overzealous preacher who lives next door. Shani is a nascent bad-ass raised by her father to be tough as a Texas military brat. She does competitive target shooting and gives her guns affectionate nicknames. She is the proverbial loaded gun in act one, but wearing a bikini.
"These are boogeymen specifically meant to scare white city folk."
The cinematography is lush and lovely. Greens of the forest pop and the shots are nicely done. F/X shots are fun, there’s a bit of Raimi-cam style drone footage to set the tone at the beginning. It’s an easy film to watch with the beautiful redwood trees framing the house.
Except for Shani the characters are stiff cardboard cutouts, which works fine actually, this is Shani’s story. Remember, we’re not taking it too seriously, this is horror-movie ‘verse. The sinister preacher (Jaye Wolfe) is arch and pious beyond suspension of disbelief and his minion Raul (Adrian Torres) is a textbook offensive Latino stereotype as a drunk working for a drug cartel with sketchy English skills. These are boogeymen specifically meant to scare white city folk. I’m not criticizing those choices, they work. For my money, you can’t do creepy better than creepy clergy (and creepy kids, which this film lacks).
“Megan Jay Simrell plays a perfect combination of surly teenager and steady voice in the crisis, not to mention her deadly aim with a .357 revolver.”
There are one or two issues. One example is a continuity gaff where Denise calls her father “dad” in his first scene, but right after that she calls him “Bob.” It’s a jarring mistake that takes the viewer out of the moment. Denise’s dialog is mostly her whiny-shouting “Shani” building up from merely annoying to a nails-on-chalkboard shriek as things get intense. That’s less atmospheric than it is irritating. The movie’s pace is off, dragging at times. These are minor points, overall the film works surprisingly well, particularly given the budget and inexperience of the director.
Everything comes together in the climax with Shani taking the lead rock steady and kicking ass. Megan Jay Simrell plays a perfect combination of surly teenager and steady voice in the crisis, not to mention her deadly aim with a .357 revolver.
This is an ideal film for interactive give-advice-to-the-characters style watching with drinks and popcorn on a rainy Saturday.