There are two intriguing hooks at play in Jessi Gotta’s The Moose Head Over The Mantel: a narrative hook and a technical hook. Both work exceptionally well.
Let’s bitch it out…
Described as a genre-bending film, The Moose Head Over The Mantel has the distinction not only of the most memorable horror title in recent memory, it has an incredibly audacious narrative and technical conceit. The film is entirely set in the parlour of the Hoffhienze ancestral home over 100 years…from the perspective of the taxidermied head of the titular character (and a few others). The result is a stagey murder mystery with a distinct visual aesthetic; an anthology set in six time periods by six different directors chronicling a pervasive familial curse that always results in murder.
The film has a relatively simple log line: in 1983 Lillian Hoffhienze-Bachman (Gotta) and her family – husband Jay Bachman (Nat Cassidy) and son Nicholas (Jesse VanDerveer) – move into the abandoned Hoffhienze home. There they discover a century’s worth of documents detailing the family’s sordid history of abuse, dysfunction and violence, which are visually represented across six different time periods: 1881, 1904, 1922, 1945, 1966. As Lillian and Jay sort through the records, Lillian becomes increasingly concerned that the events involving son Nicholas that brought them to the house are part of the family’s dark legacy.
What makes The Moose Head Over The Mantel narratively memorable is Gotta’s predilection for intertwining the timelines. A number of reviews have suggested that the film is a historical found footage anthology, with each time period occupying its own miniature narrative that contributes to the “present” day 1983 story line. This includes, among others, an alcoholic father, a clairvoyant charlatan, and a devil worshiping father, all of which are compelling in different measure (I was partial to the set design of the clairvoyant storyline, and less interested in the broader acting of the devil worshiping sequence).
The real talking point for the film, of course, is the direction. Utilizing the stuffed heads of animals on the wall (and sometimes on a desk or in a box) offers the film not only a compelling selling point, it encourages a certain measure of visual consistency across each director and time period. Since the vast majority of the film is shot from higher vantage points in the room, there’s a pervasive sense of objective voyeurism whereby the audience is both implicated in the horrendous events and simultaneously kept dispassionately at arm’s length from the violence.
Despite the inherent staginess of the fixed camera angles, The Moose Head Over The Mantel doesn’t lack for excitement. Each period has its own set of characters and conflicts, as well as unique set design and costuming, which helps to keep them distinct despite the fact that the action always takes place in the same space. This helps to avoid ennui, particularly when individual directors add their own flourishes (a POV shot from inside a box, or a slow 180 pan from a secret trapdoor used to set-up murderous reveal). Because Gotta’s script is non-linear, the film never spends too long with one particular set-up, which also helps to stave off visual and narrative boredom.
All in all Rebecca Comtois, Matthew Gray, Shannon K. Hall, Jane Rose, Bryan Enk and Jessi Gotta have crafted an unique, visually compelling historical anthology with a great hook. The title The Moose Head Over The Mantel may be a bit of a mouthful, but the film is well worth seeking out.
The Moose Head Over The MantelMidWest Weirdfest is playing at Sunday, March 11.