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(The 2017 Slamdance Film Festival kicked off on January 20 and ran through January 26. The HtN staff repped Slamdance hard with reviews like this one, the esoteric and engaging Weather House.)

First time helmers Frauke Havemann and Eric Schefter co-directed Weather House , an odd, yet highly engaging, meditation on the end of humanity. It’s a slow burn of an apocalypse, however, set in an isolated home in the woods where four mismatched souls await their fate, whiling away the hours in idiosyncratic hobbies: my personal favorite is the woman who prowls around with a boom pole, receiving all sound through the headphones she wears. In the outside world, water is scarce, or so we learn when a new guy arrives, gun in tow. “The guns don’t work,” one of the residents tells him. “He should know, he’s an engineer,” says another. Our new friend replies, “The guns work. It’s the bullets that don’t. Chemistry is different now.” And so it goes, everything discussed yet nothing explained.

Such is the charm of this retro-futuristic parable, as if the late Soviet filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky (Stalker) had joined forces with George Romero (Night of the Living Dead) to make an existential zombie thriller where the action is all talk. Zombies? Yes, they’re here, too, in a way. Without preamble, newcomers appear in scenes – as if out of the blue, their eyes glazed over – before keeling over, dead. Soon, we fear, this deadly faint might strike our main characters, of whose off-beat conversations, filled with non-sequiturs, we grow quite fond. All the while, the earth’s temperature fluctuates between hot and cold, announced on screen in brief title cards that list the time and barometric pressure, as well. Whatever is happening, climate change appears to be the culprit.

The peculiar pacing of the scenes and mannered tics of speech may not be for all, but at just 82 minutes the film remains appealing in its twisted way. I particularly enjoyed its aesthetics of camera and sound: Zen in the art of the slow push-in and audio misdirection. Sometimes we barely notice that the camera is moving, then all of a sudden realize that the frame has changed. At other times, we think we’re listening to one person talk, because a particular voice is foregrounded in the sound design, only to notice that we’re wrong. This keeps us on our cinematic toes, never knowing if the next body to fall will mark our own descent into madness. As the film ends, we pull out of the house, back into the woods, the gentle patter of rain enveloping us. Even if we are all to die, nature will prevail (perhaps). Mysterious and mesmerizing, Weather House turns the end of the world into fine art.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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