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By Phil Hall | August 12, 2012

The state of the U.S. housing market is no laughing matter, but there are plenty of laughs to be found in the inventive house-flipping indie comedy “The Selling.”

A pair of real estate agents – the too-honest Richard Scarry (Gabriel Diani, also the film’s screenwriter) and the crass Dave Ross (Jonathan Klein) – purchase a derelict old house with the plan to repair it and flip it for a profit. Unbeknownst to them, the house is already occupied– the ghosts of an alleged serial killer and his victims roam the structure, and they are displeased at the turn of events. With the uneasy help of a kooky waitress who moonlights as a “Ghost Rights Activist” (Etta Devine), the real estate agents attempt to evict the hostile spirits and secure a buyer.

“The Selling” gets off to an imaginative start with witty Saul Bass-style animated opening credits. Under the steady direction of first-time filmmaker Emily Lou, “The Selling” offers a wealth of innovative sight gags that tie the distant worlds of horror, comedy and real estate into a memorable blend. House tours become hilariously awkward as Richard tries to distract potential buyers from walls that bleed and a closet that opens into a spirit realm portal. An attempted exorcism of the spirits by Richard’s gregarious old Sunday school teacher (Barry Bostwick in a hilarious guest appearance) turns into a raucous knockabout that winds up creating more harm. Hovering around the mayhem is rival realtor Mary Best (the beautiful Janet Varney), who conveniently forgot to mention the house’s ectoplasmic tenants when she sold the property to the unsuspecting Richard and Dave – but she is too eager to purchase it back once a pair of witches turn up seeking a haunted house for their order.

Also worth noting is the supporting character of Richard’s mother (Nancy Lenehan), who is living with cancer. The relation between Richard and his mother is presented with a degree of warmth and sincerity that is rare for indie comedies (Richard hoped to use the house flip to pay his mother’s medical bills), and the maternal character figures into the comedy in a manner that achieves a unique mix of surprise and dignity.

If there is a hiccup, it comes late in the film after an unexpected plot twist (no spoilers here) unleashes a spurt of violence that was absent from most of the running time. This darker element isn’t quite in keeping with what came earlier, but the film easily recovers from this stumble and maintains its stride through the closing credits.

Praise goes out to the energetic ensemble, particularly the endearingly goofy old-school comedy team personalities that Diani and Klein bring to their roles. Matthias Schubert’s cinematography creates an appropriately eerie mood within the haunted house, and Kathrin Eder’s production design is equally impressive.

All told, “The Selling” is one of the funniest films of the year. Here’s hoping the cast and crew come back with more wonderfully original productions.

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