Trip House Review

Directed by: Patrick Meaney

Written by: Patrick Meaney

Starring: Amber Benson, Tiffany Smith, Whitney Moore, Morgan Peter Brown, Chloe Dykstra , Jeff Torres

Genre: Sci-Fi/Thriller/Horror

Patrick Meaney, known for both his work in comics and as a director of various comics based documentaries, has written and directed his first feature length film. He presents us with Trip House, a trippy horror file about regret and loss that tests the limits of a group’s friendships. The film wears it’s influences on its sleeve, a surreal love child born of writers such as Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison, particularly their work at Vertigo, and  is a solid debut from Meaney. He near effortlessly brings the surreal quality of his comics to a new medium and crafts an enjoyable and absorbing horror tale that entertains throughout and features no lack of high concepts like time travel, evil cults and dark secrets.

The film follows Katrina, (Whitney Moore), Gwen (Kaytlin Borgen), Spencer (Morgan Peter Brown) and Jeff (Jeff Torres) who are reunited at a friend’s wedding. The group was involved in an accident several years ago, resulting in their friend Dave (Taliesin Jaffe) being left as a quadriplegic with extreme brain damage and are therefore uneasy about coming together again. Trip House explores the complex relationships of the group and the regret they feel in their lives over both the paths not taken and how they’ve let their lives be ruled by their past.

Tensions run high throughout the film and are continually raised throughout the movie as the group clashes with one another. These tensions are only further aggravated by the fact that the cabin they’re staying in was previously used by a Manson family style cult who were involved with performing strange supernatural rituals lead by the enigmatic Frazer (Dove Meir) whose experiments threaten the very fabric of time, and cause chaos in the lives of the unwitting guests.

Our main cast (from left to right: Kaytlin Borgen, Jeff Torres, Morgan Peter Brown, Kaytlin Borgen

Trip House throws a lot at you in terms of plot. Within the first act we’re rapidly introduced to our characters, their dilemmas and relationships to each other, and also the horror plots including cults and the supernatural rituals. It feels like it should be a lot to set up and explain in such a short space of time, but the film has surprisingly great pacing that intrigues rather than frustrates. I was continually guessing and theorizing throughout the first two acts at what was going on, but not in a confused and lost way, more in a mentally engaging way, as I felt I was matching wits with the movie. It’s one that’ll definitely be appreciated more on further viewings, but for how “out there” the movie is it makes for a surprisingly enjoyable watch on the first go.

If you’re a fan of the sort of strange otherworldly stories and comics mentioned previously, you’ll likely appreciate the sort of high concept horror Meaney presents with the story. It helps that when the movie actually does start throwing twists and reveals at you they hit, and pretty damn hard. Whether it be a secret the friends have been keeping from each other or a key insight into their past, the reveals feel shocking while maintaining consistent with the film’s internal logic, and they never feel cheap or tagged on for artificial shock value, instead providing genuine pay off and interest to help further the characters’ arcs in very satisfying ways. The overall ending does unfortunately in some ways come off as a little cliched or even beyond belief however, though if viewed in a metaphorical light rather than a literal one it does tie the film together well thematically, and should leave the viewer feeling satisfied.

The practical effects are impressive and well utilized

A major reason for the film’s success is that the plot remains firmly rooted in its characters, even with the high concept things it throws at you. To this end, the performances are fun and engaging, easily sucking you in to the story. They do a good job at making the characters likable and engaging within their brief introductory time, and they definitely grew on me throughout the film and made me feel invested enough to care about what happened to them as the film progressed.

They sometimes don’t take the acting far enough during some of the big reveals mentioned, playing it a little bit too reserved at times which I feel could’ve been a bit more dramatic. It could sometimes be a little distracting, but on the flip-side they cast never really overact or chew the scenery in an over the top distracting fashion (except for one scene involving Morgan Peter Brown’s character, however the scene itself is totally off the wall by design and one of the film’s most purely entertaining scenes, so I’m willing to let it slide. In fact, it’s ironic that Brown’s totally over the top performance in this scene elevates it and actually captures the frantic and insane nature of an acid trip, which I believe was the intent).

I do however want to give special praise to Dove Meir as Frazer, the enigmatic cult leader, who manages to walk the delicate line between charmingly charismatic and uncomfortably manipulative. He works particularly well alongside Kaytlin Borgen who plays Gwen. Their scenes showcase a slow conversation into a cult mentality, forming one of the film’s most gripping and interesting character arcs.

The only awkward bits of acting were some of the drinking scenes, which ironically made me want to grab myself and the cast some alcohol. It just felt a little silly watching the cast play younger versions of themselves when they looked identical to their modern day selves, and definitely not the age they were meant to be playing. It’s a minor flaw though and hardly film ruining, just jarring enough to be worthy of comment.

The chemistry between Kaytlin Borgen and Dove Meir is one of the film’s real highlights

While Meaney has a background with film due to documentaries such as Talking With Gods, the type of movie he’s trying to make here is radically different and very difficult to pull off convincingly. It really is impressive how quickly he proves he can make his unique comic-style fictions work on film, as the movie is genuinely visually impressive, proving Meaney has a real eye for cinema.

What caught my attention first was the color scheme chosen for the film. As the poster suggests, there’s almost a kaleidoscopic effect on show which helps the film stand out against other indie horror films which seem to focus on drab, washed out colors to mask low budgets. It matches the film’s link to a 60s time period with almost a hallucinogenic feeling that subtly builds the world and evokes a cool sense of tone that lures the viewer in. The film’s effects and costumes too manage to do their best with a low budget in order to look technically impressive and avoid cringe inducing awkwardness. Meaney’s comics very much relied on surreal, otherworldly visuals which are hard to represent on screen, but he somehow manages to pull it off and keep up with the ambitious nature of the script.

Representing 4-dimensional space is difficult enough even without limitations, but through smart choices and by keeping the plot firmly rooted in the characters he manages to work within a small stage to create a tight and visually impressive tale. The only criticism would be the monster design being a little bit generic, however the make-up itself is definitely a fine job, and Meaney knows to follow a “less is more” approach to keep it shrouded in mystery so you focus more on its implications for the story rather than critique its design.

The film’s color scheme nails the surreal vibe and helps it visually stand out

Overall, Trip House is a highly impressive debut that works with what it has to create a gripping and compelling story. There’s occasional a bit of awkward acting or cliched dialogue, but as an experience Trip House is hugely enjoyable and definitely more than worthy of your time. It’s easy to see the influences Meaney has, definitely usiong what he’s learned from comics to present the type of weird, eerie story we don’t get to see enough of in cinema. If you take your horror weird and existential and love a good bit of sci-fi sprinkled in for good measure, you can’t really go wrong with this film.

You can find out more about Trip House, including when and where you’ll be able to see it, on the film’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Also stay tuned for a follow up interview with the film’s writer and director Patrick Meaney coming up shortly.