I guarantee you will get to the end of this movie and think, nay, and yell “what the hecking heck!”
Things start well enough in The Open House. A good slow burner needs to introduce some characters, throw in a good setting and slowly ratchet up the tension. We see that teenager Logan (Dylan Minnette, from Prisoners, review here) is an aspiring track runner and that he is supported by loving parents. But things quickly take a turn when Dad is killed in a hit and run leaving debts high enough that mother Naomi (Piercey Dalton) and Logan have to move. And hey, they are good to stay at Naomi’s sister’s house high up in the mountains. Except it’s for sale so they have to clear out for the open house viewings every Sunday.
The movie puts a lot of stock in that simple idea: what if after all the prospective buyers are gone, someone has secretly stayed behind? The movie’s strength lies in the always effective inherent fear that comes from thinking your supposedly safe space may, in fact, not be. You know you left something there, but now it’s here? Doors slam when they shouldn’t. Why is this family photo screwed up and in the bin? Who’s calling the phone and saying nothing? Gulp! What was that noise?!
Director Matt Angel has certainly studied the art of camera work that unsettles you. The house itself is huge and secluded. Combined with clever camera angles this succeeds in putting you on edge. A simple scene like Logan and Naomi watching TV at night is shown through a static shot culminating in a slow zoom to a point behind them before cutting away. The camera stalks the duo throughout the house and in the words of spaced out friendly neighbour, Martha, “the quiet out here can get real loud”.
But the problem with The Open House is that it really has nothing to say in that silence. The few characters introduced never get explored. Minnette is given the role of sullen teenager, angry at his father’s death and unable to express it. This leads to lots of sullen half conversations with an equally downbeat mother. When they do finally get into a shouting match it’s a relief to let out the pent up frustration, but then this promising character development is summarily dropped.
This is a habitual problem of the film. Logan is a wannabe Olympian runner, bet that will be essential later on! Nope. We keep going back to the basement; could it be holding some kind of nasty secret? No, it’s just a dark place for spooks. Alzheimer’s? Oh so when will that mean something, hmm? Never! Literally anything you think will be significant later just…isn’t. I’m not ruining the plot here. It’s just once you take away the slow paced camera skulking around the eponymous house there really is nothing left.
And again, I’m not going to spoil the ending for you (such as it is). But after so much slow burn build up (including Logan confiding to local shop clerk Chris that the mystery with the house ‘feels kind of personal, you know?’) the final Act sticks its fingers in its ears and goes sticks-in-hair doolally! Tonally the movie switches to all out panic mode including a sudden hefty dose of jarringly unnecessary violence, considering the lack of it up to this point. And whilst your senses are battered with fight or flight and you wait for some kind of payoff, the movie just peters out with nothing but a massive ‘okayyy?’
The ‘who’s in my house’ horror has been done, and better (check out ‘Housebound’ for something not only much scarier but also darn funny)! The Open House feels like a good core idea but one into which ultimately meaningless fluff has been thumb tacked. It’s simply empty space and despite the unease that comes with that some furniture is really needed to fill up the room.
Words by Michael Record