Evening is on the horizon, and Emma has a lot to do before sunset hits. But a fight with her husband Reed threatens to derail her evening plans.
Soon the disagreement escalates into something much more serious between Emma and her husband, leaving little time to lock Reed away before their little secrets get out.
Writer-director Kyle Bogart’s short falls neatly into the horror category, with the supernatural secret between husband and wife forming a crucial fulcrum in the plot, as well as the secret that binds them together.
But at its heart, it is an incisive, penetrating and painfully realistic portrait of a fraying marriage reaching a crisis point. Shot with a sense of muted realism with an eye for the mordant and macabre detail, the story is really a domestic drama that uses its horror elements to heighten and foreground conflict and emotion to great effect.
The actual horror is handled with great economy and precision, using strategies of suggestion and innuendo instead of explicit violence or gore, though the visuals have an uneasiness in their preoccupation with the everyday surreal.
But the real conflict and violence at the film’s heart are emotional, as the story focuses on how partners in a marriage can chafe against one another, and how this pressure can cause them to act out in ways both overt and passive-aggressive. Excellent writing and performances show a certain psychological acuity that often isn’t found in this genre, as the storytelling puts the focus both on Emma’s stifling frustrations and the wearying yet constant pull of marital obligations.
Lead actors Liz Beckham and Jason Newman play the long-married couple with a believable sense of long-running history, one that runs the gamut from indifference, comfort, tenderness and irritation. The internal and external conflicts emerge from this complicated relationship and the gravity it exerts on both husband and wife, mining emotionally complex and decidedly mature territory.
By the time “House of Straw” escalates the tension and suspense into a memorable climax, it has laid out its narrative elements with great care and precision, and watching the puzzle pieces lock into place is both highly satisfying and genuinely thrilling in the way that only a genre film can deliver.
But “House of Straw” resonates well after its ending due to the unexpected depths it excavates within its characters. Through well-delineated characters and unexpectedly emotional intimacy we achieve with them as viewers, it offers a powerful snapshot of the complexities of marriage, partnership, duty and a fraught yet powerful love that binds people to one another — and puts a new spin on the phrase “for better or worse.”