Arthur Luhn is one of those grassroots local filmmakers who exists in the fine divide between lo-fi indie and small budget direct-to-video. It's a place where others like Brad Anderson (“Next Stop Wonderland”) and Andrew Bujalski (“Funny Ha Ha”) germinated and honed their craft before moving on to bigger stages. It's good company, but, besides local origins and going it alone on ardor, a shoestring and sheer moxie, that’s where the similarities end as Luhn dwells in hardboiled genre; there’s not a lick of quirk or whimsy to his product. His 2010 feature "Conned," much like the recently released small-time thriller, “By the Gun,” depicted a heated Mafioso turf war in the North End. Luhn's latest, "The House Across the Street,” is a bit of a change up, best described as a dark psychological thriller with noir-ish crime-drama trappings. The film, shot primarily in the Bridgewater area and Luhn's third feature to date, gets its red carpet premiere this Thursday, April 9 at the AMC Loews Boston Common theater.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Luhn crafting such a complete audio-visual experience is that he’s deaf; something unapparent as one sits through “The House Across the Street." The whole character of the film is driven by a tense ambient score (by Munk Duane) that embosses the heightened state of paranoia of its heroine, Amy (Jessica Sonneborn) as she tries to figure out the mysterious comings and goings in the 'abandoned' dwelling across the way. Luhn clearly received some help in the editing room and behind the lens, but still, the aural and visual blending is so seamless and integral to the project, it's hard to believe that Luhn faces such challenges on a daily basis — something the director does not play up or make a big deal of.
Luhn cobbled together "Conned" for around $500,000. "The House Across the Street" lies arguably in the same fiscal ballpark (a budget, Luhn decries as “too low”), and given that it takes place mostly on a quiet suburban cul de sac, the location hopping costs were kept to an absolute minimum allowing Luhn to bring in bigger names, most notably, Academy Award nominee Eric Roberts as the lurking police officer who may or may not have Amy's best interests at heart. Also in the cast are Alec Rocco ("The Godfather") and Ethan Embry (from "Once Upon a Time").
It's the enigmatic aura of the titled entity and Amy's troubled past, along with the "something's going on in this town that no one will talk about'" that gives "The House Across the Street" plenty of forward momentum. Along the way however, the film has a few stumbles in the character and plot development department, but given the psychological crime drama genre, mood and intrigue matter most — and "House" is rife with them.
Luhn, who was born in Colorado, grew up in Vermont and currently resides in Randolph, Mass., is obviously accustomed to the record snow that put a damper on us over the past few months and New England's overall mercurial atmospheric temperament. Via email, he described shooting in the Boston area "handy" because of the rich variety of geographic settings the locale had to offer. Concerning the state of the political climate and Gov. Charlie Baker's initiative to cull the film industry tax credit, Luhn had some pointed, down home thoughts: "I'm sure Gov. Baker wants us to associate the film tax credits with images of latte-sipping wealthy producers in L.A. with taxpayer money in their back pocket, but the reality is that there are all those 'little people' that help make up a production who live in this state, and it's they who will get hurt the most."
None of that has deterred Luhn however, his current project "Five O'Clock Comes Early" about a successful business man hit with a terminal brain tumor, shot down on the South Shore, is finishing up, and in the works is a horror cum comedy that sends up the campy horror films of the 80s — think deconstructing delves like "Scream" and "Scary Movie."
The red carpet premiere of "The House Across the Street," which is open to the public, begins at 5 p.m. on April 9. Luhn, Sonneborn and Duane will be in attendance. Duane's band, the Munk Duane Band will play the after party at the Emerald Lounge in the Revere Hotel. For more info visit the film's Facebook and Eventbrite pages. The film will hit digital platforms and perhaps other limited cable and theatrical platforms beginning April 10.
Tom Meek is a writer living in Cambridge. His reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in The Boston Phoenix, Paste Magazine, The Rumpus, Thieves Jargon, Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere. You can follow Tom on Twitter @TBMeek3 and read more at TBMeek3.wordpress.com.