Released: 19th January 2018
Seen: 3rd February 2018
Directed & Written by: Matt Angel & Suzanne Coote
Produced by: Netflix
Starring: Dylan Minnette, Piercey Dalton, Sharif Atkins & Patricia Bethune
The idea of dealing with loss is a staple of the horror genre. Characters who lose someone or something important and are therefore emotionally unstable for a brief period of time make for good protagonists in this genre. The Open House starts out strong by giving us the Wallace family, a nice little unit dealing with the difficulties of life and makes us fall in love with them before the father is run down by a car one night while going to pick up eggs and milk. What follows is an hour and a bit with Logan (Played by Dylan Minnette) and his mother Naomi (Played by Piercey Dalton) trying to deal with the grief of their loss. They also have to deal with the harsh reality that they can’t afford to live in their old home anymore so they move into Naomi’s sisters second home that she happens to be selling. The only stipulation is that when the house is being shown off to potential buyers, the two of them will have to be gone. While they’re staying there, weird things keep happening and it threatens to drive a wedge between the mother and son… sadly though, it doesn’t make this film that interesting.
I’ll give credit where it’s due and point out that the two leads are fantastic. Both of them create characters who feel familial, like they were people who we’ve all known. When they have a fight, it’s one that every child has had with their parent’s at some point and it’s played perfectly. They’re dealing with the grief of loss and they make it work for them. Sadly, they’re carrying the entire film on their shoulders because every other actor is either phoning it in or hamming it up so much that they stop being characters and start being caricatures. There’s one specific character, the neighbor, who could’ve effectively not been in the film since she bears no weight on the plot nor does she have any reason to be there other than to be the crazy neighbor suffering from Alzheimer’s and I feel absolutely no guilt spilling that info because it has no bearing on anything, if you cut her from the movie you lose literally nothing of substance.
Visually the film is hit and miss. When it hits it does so wonderfully, there are some moments of extreme close-ups on mundane tasks that remind me of the opening of Dexter. A close-up shot of someone removing a contact lens can be unnerving, and here little things like that help create tension. There’s also a few scenes in the basement where dread is effectively shown through the use of some clever camera work and inventive use of darkness. This now makes the second Dylan Minnette film where scenes shot in the darkness impress me, though this one doesn’t use that idea nearly as effectively as some other films. These shots are interesting, then there’s other shots where it’s either perfunctory and is the exact same shot a thousand other horror films have done (Oh look, people are coming inside the front door. I better shoot them from top of the staircase looking down on them) or is just not interesting enough. There’s also some shots where there’s clearly something meant to be scary going on, or at least unnerving, but it doesn’t quite get there because we’ve not had a proper setup for those shock moments to work.
This films major issue comes down to the script which just slowly goes downhill. It starts well, the opening fills us in on all the characters and their dynamics and what’s special about them but at the end, so little of that feels like it matters. The ending is a huge copout that comes out of nowhere in the worst possible way. It’s like we somehow just leapt into a different film that was tangentially related. One of the big things about the character of Logan is that he’s a runner and a very good one. This is brought up numerous times and yet when that skill is needed the most, it’s taken away from him by the stupidest of methods. Several moments during the ending were ones I called as I was watching it because they were so obvious based on how everything was set up and it was kind of annoying. The villain of this piece isn’t even a character, he’s barely even a shadow and because we know nothing about the villain, we don’t care. I genuinely do not have a clue why the ending happens the way that it does, it’s poorly conceived and feels like a cheap attempt to shock without actually shocking anyone. It feels like they were trying to go for the idea of random horrible things happening to good people but that’s not an interesting story for a horror film. There’s no motivation, no sense of purpose to be found in anything that happens throughout the film. Also, there’s nothing quotable or even that memorable about the dialogue. I’m not asking for snappy one-liners like you’re Freddy Kruger, but I only saw this film a few short hours before I wrote this and I’ll be damned if I could remember a single piece of dialogue, yet it’s been ages since I’ve seen Halloween and I could probably rattle off the infamous Loomis speech about the six-year-old child with the blank pale emotionless face and be pretty close to accurate. When you have no motivation, no good dialogue and a story that doesn’t feel like it knows what it’s doing, you’ve got a problem right from the jump.
The sad thing about this is that the film could’ve worked, it honestly started to feel like a discount version of The Shining for a while and I liked that. I liked the slow tension they were building up, the discomfort that being in the house was causing and how they had to try and work out just what was causing their strange problems but in the end, it screwed up so badly that what could’ve been an OK film just became a disappointment.