At the turn of the 19th century, two orphaned sisters find themselves sold into sexual slavery and at the mercy of the cruel and sadistic Sr. Davenport (Kane Hodder). The younger of the sisters rebels against the unwanted advanced and daily sexual assaults and finds herself chained to her bedpost while customers line up outside her bedroom door, awaiting their turn. Her spirit broken, the young woman eventually takes her own life.
In the present day Sr. Davenport’s great grandson Joe (Juan Riedinger) has inherited his family’s vast wealth along with the sprawling mansion/former brother that sits on the Rhode Island waterfront. Feckless and bored, Joe decides his ancestor was onto something and hires a few call girls to service him and a few close friends. As you can discern from the film’s title, this does not sit well with the spirit of Alice.
Jessica Sonneborn’s supernatural thriller is a step above your average direct to video horror release. In a nice change of pace from the norm, she devotes the bulk of the film’s eighty minutes to developing her small cast of characters and building an impending sense of doom through smaller, creepy moments.
In particular, the film offers a terrific villain in the form of Riedinger’s slimy, entitled alpha male. Joe is the kind of guy that no one really likes, yet he manages to attract a cadre of hanger ons because he has the most cash to toss around, buys the best booze, scores the best drugs, and in this instance, offers to buy his friends the best sex money can buy. You can almost smell the slime rather than sweat ooze out of Riedinger’s pores as he tells the girls they are bought and for objects to be used as he sees fits.
In a lesser film, all of the other characters would follow that lead. Haunting offers some moral shades of grey. The ringleader of the call girls Natasha (Sonneborn, pulling double duty) embraces her sexuality and doesn’t seem to have any qualms with mixing pleasure with business. Adam (the always welcome Michael Reed) comes off as a happy go lucky sort just along for the ride.
Sonneborn also examines the sort of sexual slavery that arises through economic hardship. Jenny (Megan Hensley) is an unwilling member of the party, forced into attending in order to take care of her 8 year old sister while also staring down a mountain of debt and tuition bills. She makes an immediate connection with Michael (Aaron Massey) and their moments together are highlights of the film. At first Michael, unaware that the girls have been paid for, is disgusted by the notion. The more the two get to talking, the more it becomes clear things aren’t as easy to judge as they seem. Jenny’s plight stand out in contrast to the visceral, unsettling flashbacks of Alice being assaulted by Hodder and his minions. The circumstances may have changed, but the feelings of helplessness, shame and of having no alternatives are all still there.
On the downside, the film’s climax comes off as rushed. It comes a bit out of left field, and is shot in such a way that it’s difficult to tell exactly what’s going on. By the time the credits role you’re left wondering about the fate of two thirds of the characters, which is never a good sign.
There’s also a bit of ambiguity to who Alice means to punish. Her obvious target is Joe, but the first two victims of the film are a couple engaged in consensual activity. It seems like they’re targeted simply to add to the film’s body count early on, which, I get it, that’s pretty standard, but it would have made for a stronger film to have a bit more consistency.
Another character that disappears early only to reappear in the final minute is Krista (Eliza Swenson). That’s a shame if only for the fact that she’s the one character not afraid to call Joe out on his misogyny. She makes a great foil for him in the few scenes she’s in and it’s not like she comes off as a sex shaming prude. Krista’s the kind of cool girlfriend that scores her partner great acid and pouts when he goes to the strip club without her. It feels like the film is building something with her early on and then she’s just out of the picture.
Overall The Haunting of Alice D offers much more good than bad. Sonneborn understands that some of the best scares can happen in the background and surprise an audience when they start paying attention to background details. Buffeted by a solid cast, and a terrific premise, it’s a solid supernatural film with more than its share of crowd pleasing moments. For some fans Hodder’s presence is always welcome, and he’s at his most brooding and intense here.