As part of Edinburgh International Film Festival 2019.

Science fiction has presented us, somewhat ironically, with dire warnings about technology taking over for over a century.  From Metropolis to The Terminator movies have shown humanity as being at risk of loss of employment, obsolescence, slavery and obliteration.  Progress has nontheless continued apace to the point where the tech in our pocket is far more advanced than that which sent us to the Moon.  It remains fertile territory for terror.  Manolo Munguia’s H0us3 is a low-budget horror of implication, that plays on very real fears to make an outlandish concept horrifically plausible.  It is however let down by a relentless exposition dump of a script and a terrible cheat of a narrative twist.

A group of old university friends meet up at the remote rural home of Rafa (Rubèn Serrano) and Lucia (Cristina Raya) in Northern Spain.  The majority of the friends are tech whizzes, and conversation soon turns to modern technology and the threat of artificial intelligence run rampant.  Rafa reveals he has hacked the ‘insurance files’ of Wikileaks and discovered an app with terrifying World-changing potential.

It’s a superb set-up sadly wasted.  The potential for tension in a simple gathering of people remains underused.  However, the characters of H0us3 exist as nothing more than ciphers to drive the sluggish narrative.  There’s the genius behind the scheme, a hacker, a few less-savvy individuals who are the audience surrogate for the endless techno-babble, and one friend who is gifted in explaining more tricky concepts in layman’s terms.  Beyond some unconvincing attempts to refer to pre-existing rifts within the group, that’s as far as characterisation goes.

In the movie’s favour it does manage to eventually generate plenty of tension.  We’re kept guessing as to what kind of film it’s going to be.  The first comparison that springs to mind is Karyn Kusama‘s The Invitation, particularly when it begins to posit Rafa’s motives as sinister.  As people try to leave and are coaxed back there’s even a hint of Buñuel‘s The Exterminating Angel.  As the sci-fi element becomes more pronounced it evokes James Ward Byrkit‘s Coherence.  Once it finally gets up to speed, it becomes engrossing, even genuinely terrifying.  Munguia and his cast create an impressive escalation of dread with the most minimal of resources.

H0us3 is not a disaster, but the humanity of its characters is always a secondary consideration to its ideas, and it suicidally destroys the momentum it takes such pains to establish.  It’s like finally getting to the top of a massive roller coaster only for the ride to be switched off.  If Munguia and writer Sergio Martinez had found a way to trim the dense, unwieldy dialogue and committed fully to the apocalyptic games they play then H0us3 could have been an amazing piece of inventive, claustrophobic horror.  Instead, it feels like a lot of talent and potential tantalisingly unfulfilled.

International Premiere screening Vue Omni Centre Sat 22 Jun 2019