WRITTEN REVIEW: The Moose Head Over the Mantel

Some time ago I bought my first house. As I spent the first few weeks painting and doing basic repairs - making it my own, I kept thinking about all the things the previous owners and their families experienced since it was built in 1927. First the great depression, WWII, the Civil Rights Movement, the Red Scare and the Cold War. I've spent a lot of time wondering what conversations were had, and how these families dealt with all of their hardships while inhabiting what I now call home, and also, what those people were like. If only these walls could talk, what secrets would they share?

This is the basic premise behind Jessi Gotta's latest film The Moose Head Over the Mantel, which is a bit of an anthology film, following the lives of the Hoffheinze family through several generations as they inhabit the same house – handing it down, from generation to generation.

It begins with Lillian Hoffheinze-Bachman, played by Jessi Gotta, who is now moving into the old family home with her husband and son. As they unpack and settle in, Lillian begins to uncover her family's dark history through old records and diaries. Learning that members of her family were abusive deviants and often murderers, she begins to fear that her immediate family are already on the same path.

I mentioned that this is a bit of an anthology film. Each generation of the Hoffheinze family has it's own unique story to tell – each sporting a different cast and director. While these stories are connected both to the house and through their characters genealogy, these stories are very much stand alone tales. However, since they continue to develop through the duration of the film, it feels less like an anthology - allowing the tension and atmosphere of each to add to the over all tone of the film. This casts a dark shadow on Lillian's story as it unfolds.

The different generations of the Hoffheinze family exist during 1881, not long after the house was built I'm sure, 1904, 1922, 1945, 1966, and 1983 when Lillian and her family move in. Each of these time periods depict an array of colorfully twisted characters who seem to borrow from real life killers, the likes of H. H. Holmes, or even Lizzy Borden. Each story feels unique from the rest and also very fitting to it's time period, with special attention given to set design, wardrobe, and the music of each era.

Now onto the elephant, or should I say the moose in the room. Where does the titular moose come into play? The moose is a taxidermied moose head that rests above the mantel of the fireplace in living room of the Hoffheinze home. It has been there for over one hundred years and has bore witness to all of this families tragedies. It is through the eyes of the moose that each of these stories are told – acting like fixed narrator. This takes what could be a simple found footage film in the hands of anyone else, and elevates it into something captivating and original – finding an entirely new use for an old tool.

It's creativity like this that makes me so excited about indie filmmaking, especially when it comes from Jessi Gotta (writer of Moose & director of the 1945 segment) and Bryan Enk (director of the 1983 segment) – who have worked together on several projects in the past including The Big Bad, and They Will Outlive Us All, which is one of my favorites from recent years.

The Moose Head Over the Mantel certainly stands out and I feel fortunate for having the opportunity to see it. If you're in the mood for something new, different and a little twisted, check out The Moose Head Over the Mantel. And don't forget about The Big Bad or They Will Outlive Us All - you won't be sorry. Visit The Moose Head Over the Mantel for more info.


★ ★ ★ ½