- 1 hr 32 min
In the 1988 British supernatural thriller Paperhouse, director Bernard Rose tells the story of a young girl named Anna Madden (played by Charlotte Burke) who is suffering from recurring nightmares. Anna's visions are of a house situated in a vast, marshy landscape of emptiness, a house made entirely of paper, with disturbingly few details.
One day, while drawing a sketch of this house during class, Anna falls asleep and finds herself inside the paper house. Here she meets Marc, a young boy (played by Elliott Spiers) who is under quarantine due to an illness. As Anna explores the paper house, she becomes more and more desperate to find a way out â both for herself and for Marc.
Throughout the film, Anna's reality becomes increasingly entwined with her dreams, making it difficult to tell which is real and which is imaginary. Anna meets her father's boss who is visually identical to the sinister figure in her nightmares, a group of men clearing a forest metamorphoses into her father's colliery disaster memories, and her father himself resembles her imaginary friend.
As Anna's parents become increasingly worried for her wellbeing, a psychotherapist (played by Glenne Headly) eventually recognises that the house in Anna's dreams represents her own home. They eventually uncover the reasons why Anna's nightmares have made such a severe impact on her, and are able to help her find peace.
Influenced by the oft-gothic tradition of young adult stories, Rose's movie is a successful adaptation of Catherine Storr's novel Marianne Dreams, blending psychological horror with fantasy to great effect. The movie's stylised visuals and sensual score add to the creepy atmosphere without feeling melodramatic.
The performances of the child actors Burke and Spiers are nothing short of outstanding: Burke navigates Anna's descent into madness with an intense precision rarely seen in child actors, capturing both the innocence and the mania of her character.
Paperhouse also features a strong supporting cast â most notably Headly, who plays Annaâs therapist as a reassuring, gentle figure. These performances help elevate the film from feeling like a generic horror movie to a suspenseful exploration of a young girl's psyche.
Perhaps the most successful aspect of Paperhouse is its ability to create an atmosphere of unrelenting dread that gradually seeps into the audience's subconscious. Rose's use of recurring motifs â like the paper house, the green marshlands outside, and the sinister figure Anna encounters â add to the uneasy feeling that something is not quite right throughout the entire movie.
The film not only delivers a gripping and intense story, but it also constructs a dreamlike world that feels both fantastical and unsettling. As Anna's nightmares increasingly blur into her reality, the movie becomes all the more spooky, leading to a truly chilling twist in the filmâs final act.
Overall, Paperhouse is a haunting, highly visual horror movie that blends typical genre conventions with a deeper dive into the psychology of trauma. It's a film that latches onto the mind like a recurring nightmare and doesn't let go, long after the movie has ended.
Paperhouse is a 1989 drama with a runtime of 1 hour and 32 minutes. It has received mostly positive reviews from critics and viewers, who have given it an IMDb score of 6.6.