THE OPEN HOUSE (15)
Review: David Stephens
It was once thought to be a scientifically proven fact that moving house was one of the top three most stressful life experiences. Since that was first reported it has since been debunked and found to be bull-crap, partially promoted by the housing industry to advertise their ability to support buyers. Everybody now knows that the top moments of stress in life are attributable to deaths in the family, the breakdown of a marriage, or being forced to watch a sappy romantic comedy by your partner. That being said, buying a house can still suck major vapour, and the genre cheerfully exploits it. After all, what are “The Amityville Horror” and “Poltergeist” about, apart from extreme forms of new-home jitters? Here though is a different take on the unfamiliar creepy-house situation, which uses one of the more questionable property-selling methods as a hook. “The Open House” stars Dylan Minnette from “Don’t Breathe” and the “Goosebumps” movie, as well as the popular show “13 Reasons Why”. Directed/written by Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote, the film has just had its premiere on Netflix and should be streaming in most regions of the VOD service now. So YGROY decides to take a look and see if it’s a fixer-upper or just plain condemned…
Starting with some heavy-breathing over the credit screen, this fortunately turns out to be student Logan Wallace (Minnette) on a long-distance run. Living with his unemployed parents whilst waiting to graduate, his world is rocked by a freak accident. This leads Logan and his mother Naomi (Piercey Dalton) destitute and unable to pay rent on the family home. Naomi’s sister offers a lifeline though, as she suggests they take temporary residence in her mountain house which has just been put up for sale. The only condition is that the pair clear out of the building during the scheduled “Open House” sessions, where the local snippy estate agent allows potential buyers the run of the property. With no other options, Logan and Naomi pack up their few belongings and travel to the remote hilltop residence to live as best they can. Apart from nearly hitting a random stranger on the way there, the house turns out to be pretty luxurious and a good place to stay. But as they settle in, a few strange things start to happen. Objects are seemingly moved, weird phone-calls are received, and appliances keep breaking down for no reason. The Wallaces are also creeped out by some of the shifty locals. As events ramp up, are they safe in their own house, or has someone taken that “open house” term literally?
We’ll be honest here. This film is going to piss off a few people. It might not be quite “mother!” levels of divisiveness, but it seems to be rubbing up many viewers the wrong way, with plenty of 1-star user reviews appearing online and cries of “Don’t waste your time”. The main reason for that is the ending, which we obviously won’t elaborate on but is pretty audacious whatever way you look at it. However, we quite liked this atypical psycho-thriller for several reasons.
To start with, it’s actually sort of refreshing that the focus is on the realistically portrayed relationship between Mother and Son. There is genuine family love there, but also a degree of awkwardness and emotional pain that is nicely realised during a mid-way outburst between the two characters. This isn’t a gaggle of teenagers in a slasher film, it’s a couple of traumatised people trying to stumble their way through an incident that has changed their lives, only to walk into another situation that promises to do worst. They don’t feel like stereotypes or supermodels in a movie, just a short-sighted student and his struggling mother in a bad place.
The film also has quite a surprising amount of suspense and atmosphere, especially given that not a great deal actually happens for much of the plot. There’s a moody soundtrack (which is over-used at some points admittedly) that accompanies the characters and camera prowling around the house. Tiny little incidental details like doors opening a crack, or shadowy figures appearing out of nowhere, are framed and executed nicely, when they could have been treated like derivative tropes in a slasher film. The seemingly mundane characters surrounding the Wallaces are also used well. In the style of Shyamalan’s “The Visit”, homely unassuming characters suddenly become as creepy AF. Or maybe they are exactly what they appear to be. You can’t initially tell…
In essence, it’s a tricky and ballsy treatment of what could have been a really straightforward horror/thriller. There’s misdirection and a very slow burn towards what is causing the problems in the “Open House”. And when you get down to the real details we could go full spoiler and compare it to a few other films, but we won’t. It’s helped by the solid, and very believable performances of Minette and Dalton, likeable and realistic people down on their luck, it’s actually kind of heart-breaking to see fortune vomit on their heads once again when they should be getting a break. There’s an element of mean-spiritedness to the events that you normally only see in low-budget Indie horrors.
This is coupled with some chilling and cold-hearted moments of violence, with a “Misery”-like scene which could cause some wincing on viewing it. The only real issues are with the pacing (which is a little too slow in parts), that fuels the desire to press the fast-forward button, not because you’re necessarily bored but because you want to learn WTAF is going on! This should be the mark of a compelling story. And it is, but it also opens up those problems with the ending again. For the record, we actually kind of dug it, but mostly because it goes against the grain… and we knew it would upset a significant percentage of those that watch it. We’re evil like that.
In summary, we enjoyed “Open House” with its atypical characters, and the excellent misdirection and atmosphere. But we can appreciate that it’s not going to work for everybody, and the structure of the plot may not satisfy those who are looking forward to an unambiguous slasher or straightforward horror. The ending is going to be a factor for everybody’s opinion when the credits roll. Them’s the breaks though. Just like looking for a new house, you never know what you’re going to like when you unlock that door…