Climate change is usually presented cinematically in disaster form- 2004’s The Day After Tomorrow, 1995’s Waterworld, and the upcoming Geostorm, for example. The suggestion is that one day some kind of a climate switch will get flipped and the world as we know it will basically end. The new German film Weather House, from director Frauke Havemann and co-director Eric Schefter, takes an altogether different approach- presenting a micro budget, slow cooking take on one of our society’s greatest fears.
The film is set in one location- a house in the woods where at least four people live. They rarely leave the house. All we really come to know about the world is that the temperature and pressure outside sometimes rapidly changes. With long takes, slow pans, and extended periods of silence, I couldn’t help but recall the works of David Lynch. Particularly in interim close ups of nature, with the sound design bubbling over in an omniscient and foreboding ambient wash. The dialogue is also Lynchian- while the spoken words line up with mouth movements, you realize that they have all been dubbed. In fact, the entirety of the sounds you hear in the film were added in during post-production, an intentional stylistic choice, Schefter revealed to me in an e-mail conversation. The delivery of the lines has an artificial feeling to it- almost as if they’re recording an audio book.
Not to mention the dialogue itself. The total deadpan delivery of it, as well as the indifferent acceptance of this bizarre world brought to mind Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth, The Lobster). It’s cut up and mashed, as if humans have forgotten how to have normal conversations with one another. Characters don’t finish sentences. They say strange things. “What the plant needs is water,” says one character. Responding to him, another says “Fungus. The whole place is crawling with it.” Not to mention things like “I like jokes. I’ve heard jokes that make me laugh. My wife likes jokes.” And many more.
Unexplained characters wander in and around the house, sometimes seeming to drop dead. Little, if anything ever really gets explained or fleshed out in Weather House.
I happened to watch this at home with a pair of headphones on, and I can’t say enough good things about the sound design. The wind, the rain, the weather itself is felt less in sight and plot and more in sound. What could have been a flaw in a low budget about climate change- a lack of visuals- is turned into an advantage through the more affordable sound implications.
You’ll laugh. You’ll cringe. You’ll scratch your head. You’ll probably get caught up in a trance. You’ll get pulled into the true curiosity that is Weather House.
Weather House is having its Philadelphia premiere during the Cinedelphia Film Festival on Sunday, April 23. Event details and tickets here.
Correction: An earlier version of this review said the director was Eric Schefter. Schefter is actually the co-director, while the director is Frauke Havemann.