Are You in the House Alone? is a howler of a horror film. In trying to create an overwhelming sense of danger for a high school student trying to find the love of her life, this home invasion horror swings over to so bad it’s good territory.
It’s entirely possible to applaud the approach of a film and still find great fault with it. This made for TV movie genuinely is a horror story. That’s a rarity for the stranger danger/danger is everywhere movie of the week field. Judith Parker adapts Richard Peck’s novel into an over the top regurgitation of family drama, school drama, babysitting drama, and slasher/stalker tropes. There is some effort to tie everything into a lesson about personal safety, but it’s muddied by everything from over the top performances to wild tonal shifts scene to scene.
Gail Osborne is trying to spread her wings against the wishes of her mother. She’s pushing every button, showing up after curfew because of dates and fighting back for the first time. At school, the boys are all interested in her (even her teacher–ew) and the phone never stops ringing. The problems start when threatening notes are clipped into her locker and no one is on the other end of the phone anymore.
Director Walter Grauman apparently doesn’t know the definition of subtle. Even working with a script as bombastic as Parker’s doesn’t guarantee something as over the top as Are You in the House Alone?. A prank call at a babysitting job (at a teacher’s house, no less) results in a ridiculous tracking shot of Gail bouncing through the house, locking every door and window while breathing heavy to melodramatic music. It’s a moment that is supposed to titillate the audience in a film that constantly warns about the dangers of male gaze and visibility as a young woman.
The entire film is a series of disconnects. There is no rhyme or reason to which version of the same story you’re going to watch at any given moment. Is it the cautionary tale about growing up too fast? The horror film about a young woman genuinely facing unforetold danger in her formerly average life? The campy melodrama of contorted emotions and thrown glasses? Or the laugh a minute campus comedy where everybody is just trying to score? All of these and, sometimes, none of these happen at the same time. It’s more unnerving than any scare in the film.
Are You in the House Alone? is so random in its approach that you can’t even tell what story it’s trying to tell until the end. The only constant is a film so lacking in logic that you can’t help but laugh at it. This is a universe where high school students hang out and sing doo-wop or drive off to the lake house to have intimate conversations mere seconds after a huge fight at a party on the other side of town. For a sometimes-cautionary horror tale, the story feels no need to actually have any grounding in reality.