Throughout horror there are a wealth of items that have taken on an evil quality, through their creation or an interaction with another presence. There are malevolent dolls (too many to name), monstrous clothes presses (The Mangler), autonomous tyres (Rubber) and wicked lifts (The Lift). And with The Dwelling the item is a bed, forged from horrific trauma. This isn’t even the first film about a sinful bed (see 1977’s Death Bed: The Bed That Eats).
The Dwelling (also known by the goofier title Bed of the Dead) combines the ‘demonic item’ subgenre with horror’s preference for a single location. The film focuses on four twentysomethings who book into an adults-only hotel to celebrate a birthday. Unfortunately their room comes with a particularly evil bed and they soon find themselves trapped on it. Remaining on this particular piece of furniture leads to hellish visions but leaving it causes a painful death (and there are a couple of groovy kills here). It’s a fun set-up played out to it limits. Scenes of the gangs terrible hotel stay are interspersed with a hard-boiled detective (doesn’t play by the rules, tragic past, leather jacket, facial hair, drinking problem) investigating the aftermath.
There is a central conflict to The Dwelling (which is there in its title change). On the one hand proceedings are treated with a seriousness that is admirable, and on the other this is a film with a premise that feels like one of horror’s more ridiculous ones. Proceedings begins with a grisly flashback to some of the trauma engrained in the wood of the bed, whilst debut director Jeff Maher gives The Dwelling an admirable gloss that for the most part makes it a particularly attractive horror (Maher’s experience in cinematography come to the fore here). And thanks to compelling turns from the central four the portions that take place on the bed are surprisingly compelling. Sadly the scenes with the detective are awash with clichés that feel closer to what you’d expect from a film called Bed of the Dead and can’t help but frustrate. And yet as the numbers on the bed dwindle down Alysa King and Gwenlyn Cumyn stand out, with the pair doing much of the emotional heavy lifting in the film’s second half. The narrative moves into areas of trauma that make the film surprisingly gripping and held this reviewer’s attention throughout.
For a film with such a seemingly ridiculous set-up director Jeff Maher (alongside co-writer Dennis Andres) has managed a mostly compelling horror. The Dwelling benefits from a professional sheen and a number of strong performance, plus a loopy narrative that keeps audiences on its toes. As evil as this particularly furniture is you may just want to spend the night on this demonic bed.