Felicity Huffman, Anastasia Phillips Star in Amy Jo Johnson’s Dark Comedy ‘Tammy’s Always Dying’

The indie directed by the ‘Power Rangers’ alum also stars Clark Johnson, Lauren Holly, Aaron Ashmore and Kristian Bruun.

Oscar nominee Felicity Huffman and Anastasia Phillips are starring in Tammy’s Always Dying, the second feature from director Amy Jo Johnson, who played the original pink Power Ranger Kimberly Hart in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and in two subsequent feature films.

The dark comedy, based on a script by Joanne Sarazen, sees Huffman play Tammy, a charismatic, yet self-destructive mother to 35-year-old Catherine, played by Phillips, whose role as a caregiver changes when Tammy is diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Catherine eventually recruits a talk show agent to help profit from her mother’s miserable life story. But as Tammy’s death becomes her daughter’s only way out, one problem stands in her way: Tammy just won’t die.

The Canadian indie from JA Productions, Plainspeak Pictures and Prospero Pictures is shooting in Hamilton, Ontario. The ensemble cast for Tammy’s Always Dying includes Clark Johnson, Aaron Ashmore, Kristian Bruun and Lauren Holly.

Director Johnson as an actress played Julie Emrick on Felicity, and earlier directed her first feature, The Space Between.

Tammy’s Always Dying is produced by Jessica Adams and Harry Cherniak, with Martin Katz, Karen Wookey, Joannie Burstein, Huffman and Johnson sharing the executive producer credits.

TAJJ Film Distribution will oversee worldwide sales. Huffman is repped by Creative Artists Agency. Phillips is repped by Oscar Abrams Zimel & Associates.

Review: Talking to the dead turns troublesome in supernatural thriller ‘Our House’

After countless supernatural thrillers, one lesson should be clear, both to the characters and the audience: Let the dead stay dead. The trick is to make the motivation to speak to spirits so powerful that even the most horror-savvy can’t resist.

“Our House” gets those emotional underpinnings firmly in place, then spends much of its running time shoring them up — sometimes at the expense of delivering scares.

Thomas Mann stars as Ethan, a brilliant college student working on a machine to generate power cheaply and wirelessly. When his parents die unexpectedly, Ethan quits school to take care of his teenage brother Matt (Percy Hynes White) and younger sister Becca (Kate Moyer). Then he tinkers with his invention again and finds it can conjure messages and manifestations from beyond the grave.

Director Anthony Scott Burns and screenwriter Nathan Parker (adapting an earlier film by Matt Osterman) aim more for realistic family drama than a spook-fest. There’s almost as much in “Our House” about Ethan’s struggle to be a good guardian as there is him weighing whether it’s a good idea to keep talking to ghosts.

When the movie shifts more toward fright in its final third, Burns and Parker don’t have much new or exciting to offer. But with the help of a strong performance from Mann, they do a good job capturing one family’s feelings of brokenness, and how far they’d go to get back what they lost.

‘Our House’: Fantasia Review

Thomas Mann plays a young inventor who discovers a link to the afterlife in Anthony Scott Burns’ ghost tale.

A haunted-house metaphor for the psychological perils of not dealing with grief, Anthony Scott Burns’ Our House finds three recently orphaned kids grappling with what may be a means of communicating with their parents. A remake of Matt Osterman’s lower-budget Ghost From the Machine — which, like this pic, had its debut at the Fantasia International Film Festival — this slow-building chiller emphasizes family bonds over scares. Though it lacks the go-for-the-throat spirit seemingly required to succeed in the broader horror marketplace these days, its sincerity and polish should impress genre die-hards, building interest for the first-timer’s next project, Come True.

Thomas Mann (Some Freaks) stars as Ethan, a college student hoping to turn Nikola Tesla’s theories of wireless electrical transmission into a commercial reality. He has a gizmo built atop what appears to be an old record turntable, but repeated experiments fail to send sufficient juice through the air to a nearby light bulb. On the eve of his latest test, after he cuts a family visit short so he and classmate/girlfriend Hannah (Nicola Peltz) can return to the campus lab, Ethan’s parents die in a car crash.

Three months later, Ethan has dropped out of college to care for younger siblings Becca (Kate Moyer) and Matt (Percy Hynes White). But he hasn’t given up on his invention: As he tinkers with it in the garage, Burns’ roving camera foreshadows a connection between that device and Becca’s belief that Mom is talking to her when she’s by herself.

All three kids come to understand that Ethan is generating some kind of electro-portal to the afterlife. As the big brother hypothesizes, referring to measurable brain waves, “Our consciousness has a frequency, so where does all that energy go when we die?” He suspects that increasing the power feeding his invention might allow it to make their parents visible to the whole family, so he gets help from a neighbor, Tom (Robert B. Kennedy), who works for the local power utility. Then Tom starts to behave oddly, and we suspect Ethan’s device is more than just a ham radio that can talk to heaven.

Apart from some creepy-looking tendrils of black smoke that accompany the story’s early encounters, Our House does little in its first half to suggest that menace lurks ahead. And we’re well into the third act before the beats of Nathan Parker’s script start matching up to what we expect from a contemporary haunted-house flick. Arguably, the film’s hard turn into Scaresville taints what has made it appealing up to this point — and certainly, a tease in its final shot is a cheap gesture toward a possible sequel. But what comes before benefits from the cast’s solid familial chemistry and an unhurried approach to the question: Should we want to talk to loved ones who’ve died, or leave them (and ourselves) in peace?

Production companies: Prospero Pictures, Resolute Films, Senator Film Produktion
Distributor: IFC Midnight
Cast: Thomas Mann, Robert B. Kennedy, Kate Moyer, Percy Hynes White, Nicola Peltz
Director: Anthony Scott Burns
Screenwriter: Nathan Parker
Producers: Karen Wookey, Lee Kim, Martin Katz, Ulf Israel
Executive producers: Todd Brown, Derek Dauchy, John Davis
Director of photography: Nazgol Goshtasbpour
Costume designer: Anne Dixon
Editor: Erin Deck
Composer: Mark Korven
Casting director: Millie Tom
Venue: Fantasia International Film Festival

PG-13, 90 minutes