There are a few locations that come up time and again in horror films, simply because they are so naturally disturbing that they do a lot of the work for you. One example is the asylum, especially one that is abandoned and decrepit. A.D. Calvo's House of Dust mixes this up a bit by placing his abandoned asylum on the campus of a large university, and the action varies between the two.
Emma (Inbar Lavi) is a morose and somewhat psychologically disturbed young woman, who is taken under the wing of her new dorm roommate Gabby (Holland Roden), along with Gabby's boyfriend Dylan (Eddie Hassell) and their friend Kolt (Steven Grayhm), who himself is a little sweet on Emma. Wasting time on campus one day, they run across the Redding House, an asylum that has been empty for some time. Dylan gets the wild idea to break in and look around, and after dodging a tenacious security guard, they manage to get inside.
Of course, the students have only heard rumors of the horrible experiments that used to go on in the building, and how the particularly dangerous Levius (John Lee Ames) was burned alive after killing a doctor. Regardless, they manage post haste to disturb the ashes of Levius and some of his fellow inmates, which viewers of horror films will realize is bound to cause trouble.
Almost immediately Emma starts to relapse, and all of her psychological problems come to the fore. She begins to have horrible nightmares, and she can hear Levius calling her name, though she doesn't know who he is or why he is focused on her. Her friends begin to act strangely as well, sometimes with no memory of wicked things they have done. There are murders and disappearances on campus, and she begins to suspect that her friends might be involved.
House of Dust does pretty well with its concept, though it underutilizes the supremely creepy asylum sets. The empty hallways and out of the way laundry rooms of the dorm are a pretty good substitute, but they can't quite capture the same feeling of unease. Nevertheless, a sense of dread is generated, though it can't quite be maintained throughout. There is some very cool imagery, often achieved through simple editing. Levius appearing behind Emma while she studies is particularly effective, though it's just one example.
All the performances are pretty good. Lavi does a superb job as the emotionally damaged but brave young woman. The entire main cast is solid, and Ames is suitably menacing and creepy as the psychotic, ghostly villain. Some of the Mean Girls style drama between Emma and the other young women in the dorm is a little forced and tinny, but overall the writing is crisp and sharp. There are a few good jump scares and a generally eerie feeling.
The film isn't perfect. It stumbles from time to time, and struggles to keep the fear and unease up as the story continues on, but it is better than most of the horror material that comes out these days. Recommended.