Directed by Zack Ward
Maybe it’s my horror fandom that makes me so loathe to move out of the current squalor I call home. After all, if this genre’s taught us anything it’s that new houses come with many problems – be them ghosts, demons or just a hell of a lot of DIY. In his feature-length debut, Zack Ward (normally an actor) does little to challenge this trend by delivering another sordid tale that shows moving can be murder.
Here our young, and recently wed, couple are Todd (Gaeta) and Rebecca (O’Brien) Jordan who have just bought a new place. Sure, it needs a little work, and the neighbours are weird, but the price is great! Excited with their new fixer-upper, he begins some restoration work and finds a teddy bear behind the walls. Yet if this doesn’t scream ‘haunted house’, the secret diary hidden inside ought to. Written by a little girl, who previously lived in that house, the pages are stuffed with eerie details of strange goings-on that took place there decades before. Shortly after whispers are heard, scary dreams are had and her burning spirit shows up. Naturally this finding prompts our Rebecca to investigate further and find a way to put her spirit to rest. Probably be less stressful than moving again, right?
As per houses, horror films need a solid foundation to support their scares. Here the team have done a decent job building an intriguing central mystery. Aesthetically it is also very accomplished, with Ward making the most of his few locations via a combo of great mood lighting and innovative camera angles. Similarly the sounds are downright creepy, with an effective score helping to establish the tension between the movie’s various jump scares. The actors also sell the premise very well, with them giving solid enough performances that ensure you’re invested in both their survival and their ongoing relationship: particularly when an unexpected pregnancy comes into play. The core cast are undoubtedly helped by a script that gives them something to work with i.e. actual characters rather than the all too common reckless stereotypes that are happy to do whatever silly thing the plot demands next. I also can’t express how much I appreciated the movie not falling into the usual second act lull of ‘she died’ ‘are you crazy?’ etc. In this respect, it admirably deviates from the usual haunted house blueprint.
Yet if there’s a big complaint to be made about Restoration, it’s that despite its idiosyncrasies it’s still fairly workmanlike. No, Ward is no cowboy. But then nor is he a fine architect. Despite their careful construction, the majority of the main scare moments are ones fans will have seen many times before in the seemingly endless line of domestic chillers by Blumhouse. There’s a real skill to designing something that’ll fit in with its genre landscape whilst being fresh, and the creative team here just don’t quite have it. Furthermore, the all too inevitable conclusion (one it’d be too grand to call a plot twist) undermines much of the considered pacing of before by doing exactly what audiences will expect it to the most. Could have been the result of some behind the scenes disputes. Or hey, maybe they just got lazy towards the end. Regardless, for a first-timer Ward shows himself to be a very promising horror apprentice.