House of Wax Review
By Tony Kollath
May 5, 2005
House of Wax treads familiar territory, walking the same footsteps as recent entries in the slasher genre, Wrong Turn and the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Similarly casting an attractive 20-something female at the head of a largely forgettable group of fellow 20-somethings, House of Wax manages to be slightly more entertaining than its bretheren. Of course, this is splitting hairs.
Elisha Cuthbert stars in the film as Carly (I fully realize that we are going to hear from the Chad Michael Murray fan club in full force insisting that he is the star). Cuthbert left her constantly (and laughably) imperiled character of Kim Bauer on 24 behind before making an impression with her turn in last year's The Girl Next Door. She brought life and nuance to a role it would have been easy to overplay, before largely disappearing during the second half of the film. Here, she isn't given much of an opportunity to act, having to settle instead for having peril constantly thrust upon her.
Along with Cuthbert, the film features two of The WB Refuge All Stars, Chad Michael Murray as Carly's surly brother Nick and and Jared Paladecki as Carly's brother Wade. Also along for the ride is Paris Hilton, whose primary job in the film seems to be to stand around in a fashionable blue jumpsuit. Audiences will vaguely recognize Jon Abrahams and Robert Ri'chard as the final members of the group, which is probably a clear signal that their characters can be considered expendable as far as the plot is concerned.
The kids in the film have apparently never seen the Scream franchise, or any other slasher flick for that matter, and go out of their way to follow each step in the How To Get Yourself Killed in a Horror Movie play book.
- "The Surely-He-Must-Be-Mortally-Wounded Bad Guy We Left for Dead has reappeared to wreak even more vengeance upon us? We did not see this coming!"
- "Hey, Comic Relief Guy, you've gotten off a few good zingers already. Why don't you bumble your way over to the spooky House of Wax while I take a look around this relatively well-lit location?"
- "So, my girlfriend, while looking through a mirror, saw a spooky face outside through the window. Why don't I go outside to do some investigatin' while I leave her inside this creeeepy house, which I can only assume is unoccupied."
The film takes an awfully long time to get to the meat of the matter. The first third of House of Wax bogs down unmercifully as the group, on a roadtrip to a college football game, comes across an unexpected detour on the road, and ends up in some middle-of-nowhere backwoods wilderness. Brilliant idea, kids, let's camp here for the night. Surely nothing bad can happen.
Actually, nothing bad does. The scenes at the campsite are largely spent to establish character development, or at least what passes for it. Carly is pondering making the move to big New York City to take an internship at a magazine. Nick is constantly in trouble. Wade and Nick don't trust each other. There is no depth to any of these facts, and having fulfilled their quota for character development, screenwriters Chad and Carey Hayes have the characters eventually wander into an eerie town in which stands the House of Wax (finally!).
Once in the town, the characters finally find their way into the clutches of evil. The kids find all sorts of fatal mayhem both within and without the House of Wax. The house seems to be just a museum, but just as the characters find that the physical house is in fact entirely made of wax, the dwelling holds even more disturbing secrets. You would think that the House would at least be the centerpiece of the action, but I was surprised how little of the plot actually took place inside it. In fact, some of the characters are offed even before coming within sight of the town.
Anyway, none of the havoc is very inspired, though I have to admit that a plot point concerning the church in the town was handled well. The scare scenes don't really deliver. Each of the jump scenes is so well telegraphed that the audience is tittering in anticipation, but is let down because the payoff doesn't have any impact. At least the gore is on the light side, especially compared to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Wrong Turn.
Sure, the film has few laughs. One of the characters makes use of a video camera in a way that will give some a chuckle thanks to Paris Hilton's recent past. One of the characters, in response to some indiscriminate shuffling noise heard outside his tent, manages to offer up a wry "It's probably just a serial killer or something." And the final scenes concerning The Fall of the House of Wax involve a somewhat impressive cataclysm which just manages to stay this side of decent effects.
It's always a bad sign when you walk out of a film thinking to yourself, "I could have written that," but that was my reaction after House of Wax. The screenwriters aim to give the audiences what they came for, and not a speck of laserjet toner more. The final scene of the film contains what is supposed to be One Final Shocking Revelation, but my only reaction was, "Umm, so?"