House of Voices original title Saint Ange refers to an orphanage in the French Alps in the year 1958. The orphanage, once full of children, prepares for the final move out, after a mysterious and terrible accident where a child slipped and fell in the bathroom, which the audience bears witness to in the opening. The protagonist Anna (Virginie Ledoyen) arrives amidst the chaotic scurrying in and out of the large building, as she is the only one carrying stuff inside. It almost feels like the rats are abandoning the ship while Anna is the only one who decides to stay, which immediately suggests that something is not right with the situation.
The camerawork enhances the eerie atmosphere with its cool bluish tint, which brings out the coolness and detached mood that the place emits. In addition, the peculiar camera angles elevate the weird feeling of the place. The abandoned orphanage almost produces a similar tension that Shining (1980) radiates where the husband decides to spend the winter with his family in a remote hotel, as a caretaker. In this story, Anna stays as the assistant to the caretaker, as she attempts to deal with her pregnancy. The parallels are strikingly similar, yet it does not come close to Kubrick's brilliant version of Stephen King's novel.
Not to give anything away, but there is something spooky about the orphanage (duh!), which the initial bathroom scene obviously portrays. The creepy atmosphere lingers throughout the film while some scenes have intensified moments of eeriness such as when Anna discovers old files of children in a forsaken part of the orphanage grounds and her nightmares, which will have the audience leaping out of their seats. Despite the scary elements, Anna remains working at the orphanage while she continues to hide her pregnancy to the two remaining characters within the abandoned orphanage, one, the cook and caretaker Helenka (Dorina Lazar) while the second is the estranged teenage orphan Judith (Lou Doillon).
Anna's youth and pregnancy suggests additional twists and uncanny elements to the story in combination with the orphanage. A pregnancy that she hides by tightly wrapping a bandaged around her inflated belly awakens thoughts of child deformation through the tightly secretive wrapping and self-injury. Yet, Ledoyen delivers an ambiguous tone to the character that both despises and loves the unborn within her. In addition, before the complete move out, a little orphan girl whispered something in Anna's ear, which comes back and disturbs her thoughts in regards to scary children. The thought of scary children remerges when she uncovers the files of the orphans in a hidden part of the large garden. At this moment, the film begins to increase the strange things that happen, as Anna seeks the help of Judith to find an answer to what happened to those scary children during World War II and why Judith is the sole survivor.
House of Voices has strong potential to be a very good horror film, but somewhere two thirds into the film a cinematic discomfort becomes obvious. The overuse of peculiar camera angles that indicates some thing is wrong begins to have less of an effect, probably due to desensitization, which limits the way the viewer responds to the eeriness. Also many of these camera angles signal when the scary parts are about to take place, which limits the audience's appreciation of the haunted story. Nonetheless, the film is very well cast, but there are also a couple of scenes where the characters feel a little phony. However, the film succeeds in capturing the ghost-like behavior of all other characters besides the three main individuals in the film. This is an essential facet to the understanding of the culmination of the film, which tries to toss the audience around a little in traditional M. Night Shyamalan manner. The intentional twist will leave some viewers perplexed and others discontent. In either case, the audience will have experienced a decent horror film that tries to bend the rules of storytelling, but does not fully succeed.