Tuesday, 1 May 2018

The Open House (2018) - Movie Review

The plot: After the death of her husband (Aaron Abrams), Naomi (Piercey Dalton) moves herself and her son Logan (Dylan Minnette) into her sister's house until they can get back on their feet. As they encounter the locals, and shuffle around the 'open house' schedule for the house that is currently on the market, Logan starts to notice strange things going on inside the house. It seems that there are some drawbacks to opening up one's home to other people.

Minnette is getting increasingly familiar with playing unaware teens placed in unnerving households between this, Goosebumps and Don’t Breathe, and that familiarity combined with his earthy delivery serves him well here. He’s not given a whole lot to do, save for running and grieving, but he manages to wring quite a bit out of his character’s quieter moments. Dalton is merely serviceable, only really showing elements of a pulse when she’s conversing with Minnette. Well, conversing and heavily arguing, as a loud argument two-thirds of the way in is the most memorable scene she takes part in that doesn’t involve showering.
Abrams gets some nice moments in before his plot-mandated death, Sharif 'the psychic baseball player from The 4400' Atkins is passable as what amounts to being the film’s plot-convenience neighbour, and Patricia Bethune as one of the other neighbours Martha does well in providing a possible source of tension. Of course, that latter performance ends up being wasted considering how lacking in tension all of this is.

The initial fears and apprehensions connected to moving into a new house has been a steady stream of horror inspiration for decades now, whether it’s dealing with actual haunted abodes or just worries about who or what once occupied the place a person now calls home. Anyone who has had to move house in their lifetime (which given most Western property markets should be most if not all of you reading this) should relate to that feeling of worry, either out of old-fashioned paranoia or just the unease of adjusting to new surroundings. This film takes that concept and holds it close to its core, adding in the extra discomfort of the “open house” aspect of house-hunting. This is a point brought up rather up-front in the film itself, but the entire idea of doing an open house is one that requires a lot of trust in complete strangers. It means opening the doors of your home to the public, letting them walk through all of the rooms and see all of the fixtures, all in the hope that no-one’s going to nick your belongings while you’re unawares.

I bring both of these points up because this domestic thriller has a pretty sturdy foundation to it for good chills, especially since its two main concepts are ones that have tried and tested in abundance. Of course, good concepts require an understanding of their use in order to truly work, and it is here that the film immediately stumbles into problems. The story starts on the pretence of depicting familial grief, feeling like the kind of story that Mike Flanagan would have sunk his teeth into.
But that comparison is a bit unfair because Flanagan actually takes the time out to dissect the psychological effects of the death of a family member, whereas directing/writing/producing duo Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote end up dropping it with ghastly ease without even a hint of any kind of resolution. They seem to be under the impression that building atmosphere is as simple as showing mundane goings-on and then BAM!, there’s someone else wandering around the house. The dramatic irony jumpscares here are really tired, both because they exist solely for the benefit of the audience and mean nothing to the characters in-universe but also because they are incredibly weak. The washed-out visuals from DOP Filip Vandewal don’t help matters, making the production look as deeply unengaging as the story they’re supposed to be in service to.

So, we have a film that is barely being held together by the actors and doesn’t seem too fussed with actually getting to the point in any great hurry. I was hoping for the resolution to bring everything in perspective, putting all the disparate pieces of the narrative together to give a single cohesive point. You know, that thing that any film worth its salt is capable of? Well, this film admittedly does have an ending that makes sense of what came before it, but not in any of the satisfying ways. It plays off any hinting at the supernatural as just basic paranoia, making the viable threat real. Nevermind how this makes a few of the bit characters rather pointless in the grand scheme of things; this film can’t even make the Big Bad seem interesting. It’s just some guy without a name or legible face to his lack-of-a-name, who has some token showings of sadism.
This basically turns the entire film into a complete dud but it also ends up reinforcing a lot of its pretences regarding the titular “Open House”. I can only imagine that this was created to validate the very worries I highlighted above, because all I walked away from this film with is the sense that I should be scared of complete strangers, even if I willingly invite them inside. I don’t like the idea of hating anything solely on principle, but I am growing increasingly weary of pro-isolationist mindsets in films. Maybe we should all take its advice and isolate ourselves from this thing.

All in all, this is yet another boilerplate horror flick that can’t even manage to do that one job properly. The acting is rather decent and if the film focused more on the relationship between the main characters, this could’ve ranked alongside Before I Wake and Winchester as a film that works better as an eerie drama than a straight-up thrill fest. But since this film and these directors insist on focusing on quite banal non-events, not having the foggiest idea how to utilise this gift-wrapped premise to their advantage, that is not what we get. Knowing that this kind of film basically represents the direct-to-video side of the Netflix catalogue, I can’t get too mad at it because this was likely made as a throwaway… but that doesn’t change the fact that this film serves no real purpose, other than accidentally appealing to worrying real-world attitudes.

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