So far, in eight essays, I’ve covered only about 26 minutes of screen time. The film has a surprisingly lengthy first act and then it begins the second act with an excruciatingly slow introduction. We wait for over six minutes for the parents to come down from upstairs and what happens while we’re waiting is odd, but in a way that’s hard to describe.
The audience takes the young woman’s position as we enter the house — like her we are seeing this place for the first time. Except that’s not exactly true. We saw glimpses of this house during the opening monologue and then again briefly as the janitor got ready to begin his day. In fact, there’s one very interesting detail about those opening monologue scenes that sets up the weirdness in this one — we see lots of dog toys lying around the house in those early shots. Yet when the couple arrives at the house and Jake talks about Jimmy, there are no dog toys and the young woman notes the strangeness of this immediately, that she is almost always aware of there being a dog in the house due to the dog toys.
There are also numerous shots of the girlfriend looking at fairly standard items around the living room with a sense of puzzlement, as if she had a vague memory of the place, but it didn’t seem quite the same as it does now. One theory of the film is that it includes a time loop element, that things happening in the story have happened in the past in something very close to exactly the same way. What makes this version of the story different from all the previous recurrences is that things are one-off this time. Suddenly Jake can hear the girlfriend’s thoughts. Suddenly she can see the janitor through windows. Suddenly the house has become a Disney World antiseptic version of itself.
Two more pieces of evidence for the antiseptic house — Jake puts on a record (and plays the same piece of film score that we hear in the opening monologue) and has to do nothing to drop the needle on the vinyl phonograph, he just puts the record inside and its starts playing. And then, when he decides to start a fire, without any indication that it’s a gas fireplace, he drops in a match and it immediately ignites.
And then there’s the basement, which is set up as a really dangerous, mysterious place based on Jake’s strange description of it and all of the hostile looking scratches on the outside of the door. Who is so eager to get in and why? Has someone locked him or herself into the basement? Jake refers to someone down in the basement — who could that be? The janitor?
There is somewhat of a payoff for this basement setup, but it’s not as interesting as we’re being set up to believe. But the scene does succeed in preparing us for the extremely bizarre events that will soon take place in the house, scenes that were not in Reid’s book. The movie devotes far more time to the house than the book, so perhaps this windup is appropriate in that respect.
Still, I believe that this is the first scene in the movie that falls a little flat. It could have used a couple more rounds of edits to whittle down to maybe four minutes.