House of Sweat and Tears is the directorial debut of Sonia Escolano. The film follows the exploits of a cult trying to attain enlightenment through pain. The film isn’t as gory or shock inducing as one with such source material could be, but that works to the film’s advantage.
While most cult films go all out in showing the exaggerated horror and circumstance of being in a cult, this film’s true horror is the mundanity of life in a cult and how matter of factly these acts of sadomasochistic self-abuse are treated. The fact that people in the cult don’t seem particularly fazed by their actions, at least not to the extent they should be, shows just how easily influenced and manipulated people are.
The film is rather quiet, with most of the events taking place within a nondescript building, signifying nothing of the time or place this film is supposed to take place in. The quietness hinders the film somewhat, as the lack of substantial onscreen action means that the film is at times boring and meandering. The narrative focus is spread out, with several characters taking centre stage for a time. This means that we cannot form any attachment to the characters as they aren’t the focus for a substantial amount of time.
Additionally, the film could have benefited more from having more gore in order to showcase the ultimate extremes of their willingness to attain whatever vague goal they are attempting to. The acting is fairly good for a production of this calibre, but nobody is given a proper chance to shine due to the unclear narrative focus and the insubstantial plot. I liked certain elements of this film, but it seems as if the film is too scared to commit fully to the pretence of horrible cult life, and instead gets trapped in trying to produce a feeling of psychological discomfort as opposed to more physical and tangible pain.
Verdict: Ultimately, I would give this film a 6/10 for having immense potential but not having the gall to fully commit and go all in.