House of Voices

Before the Brillian MARTYRS, Pascal Laugier Began With This Simple Ghost Story

Main Cast: Virginia Ledoyan and Lou Doillon

Director: Pascal Laugier

My opinion of Pascal Laugier’s 2004 movie House of Voices may have changed during the third act, but for the first 40 minutes, at least, I just kept thinking, “Man, it’s a good thing he cast Virginia Ledoyan in the lead because this thing is BOR-RING.”

Of course, if I’d realized going into it that the man who made this movie was the same one who made the wonderful Martyrs and the passable The Tall Man, I probably would have felt more at ease with the incredibly slow pace and instead trusted that, at some point, things were going to shift dramatically. And they did.

The story centers around a young woman, Anna, who has been sent to work as a cleaning lady at the now-empty Saint Ange orphanage. All of the children have recently been cleared out, leaving behind only Anna, Helenka (the cook), and Judith, a woman who grew up in the orphanage, but hasn’t seemed to progress beyond childhood mentally.

Anna is a woman with a secret (she’s pregnant), and she doesn’t want that secret to get out. This is 1958, after all, and what would the neighbors think?

Soon after moving into the orphanage, she begins to hear strange noises. Judith says it’s “the children”, which reminds Anna of what one of the orphans whispered to her just before she was carted off, something about the “scary children”.

As the days goes by, Anna becomes more and more convinced there’s a secret behind Saint Ange, and with the help of Judith–once she works the sedatives Helenka constantly feeds the girl out of Judith’s system–Anna sets forth to discover those secrets and hopefully still the restless spirits haunting the place.

But let’s remember, this is Pascal Laugier we’re dealing with, and when that total shift happens in the last 20 minutes, it, oddly enough, doesn’t feel as out of place as it should. This is Laugier’s talent, it seems, tacking on the ending from a different movie to the ending of the current movie and somehow making it work.

Like I said, the first chunk of this movie was boring as hell, but Ledoyan’s easy on the eyes, so… And it’s not like NOTHING happened. The pace just felt like Laugier was determined to drill the viewer with atmosphere before ever bothering to develop a character or advance the plot. Luckily, things eventually picked up and for a brief span in the middle of the film, we seemed to not just move forward with the story, but nearly leap forward several big steps. Something like this should have felt rushed, but it didn’t come across that way at all in the movie and instead simply felt like the natural order of things.

Laugier is a master at atmosphere and unpredictable plots, but another talent is an obvious penchant for casting. From Morjana Alaoui in Martyrs and Jessica Beil in The Tall Man, he’s got a way of casting the actress who is going to most perfectly embody the spirit of his story’s main character, and it started here with Ledoyan as Anna. Virginia Ledoyan gave her character a quiet, thoughtful quality, with a hidden strength we see hovering just below the surface throughout the entire movie, even though she doesn’t get to express just how strong and courageous she is until the end.

Lou Doillon as Judith also adds a welcome innocence to the story, as well as providing a certain level of creepiness because we’re just never sure until the very end just what’s going on in that head of hers. Are the voices and noises being caused by ghosts, or is Judith a little further around the bend than we’re led to believe. Either way, in the end I enjoyed this movie a lot more than I expected to, and am ready for whatever Laugier does next.

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