Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Open House (2018)

Because the accidental death of their husband and father leaves Naomi Wallace (Piercey Dalton) and her son Logan (Dylan Minnette) in dire financial straits, they have to move into the mountain house of her stinking rich sister. That means Logan gets pulled out of school before his graduation – there’s never any talk of him, you know, changing schools so he can actually graduate, for reasons the script never bothers to come up with, so he can spend his time running and moping. He also doesn’t seem to have any friends at all, at least him missing anyone or using some of that new-fangled communication stuff you hear so much about these days never comes up. Naomi for her part doesn’t actually seem to look for work, which is also a thing that can be helpful when you’ve got no money, again without the script actually giving us any reasons for that.

Anyway, on the positive side, that mountain house is really rather more of a mountain palace. Less positive is that every Sunday an open house event takes place there and our protagonists have to leave for the whole of the day, because the sister and her husband want to sell the place. Don’t ask me why they don’t pause the open house stuff as long as they have relatives living there, I didn’t write this crap.

If you’ve heard any urban legends or read creepypasta, you can probably imagine what happens next. There’s a strange elderly neighbour (whose strange behaviour the script doesn’t bother to explain, obviously), and their time in the house is haunted by a series of mildly strange occurrences: food disappears, glasses disappear and appear again, and the hot water tends to cut out whenever Naomi is in the shower. It’s a little as if…there’s a murderous psychopath with them in the house!

On various technical levels, the Netflix opus The Open House directed and written by Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote isn’t a bad little movie. The directors certainly do have a hand for pretty, competently generic visuals, and while they really rather overdo the whole “camera glides through the house while loud dramatic music plays” thing, I won’t deny the film even to be somewhat stylish, if strictly in a slickly professional rather than an artistically interesting way.

The acting is pretty okay too, or rather, the two leads do what they can with the little the film’s great weakness, the needlessly sloppy script, provides them with. There is, for example, a big fight in the between the two when Naomi suddenly assumes Logan is responsible for the strange things that have been happening, and Dalton and Minnette do their best to make this feel like a really bad falling out between actual human beings. Unfortunately, the whole scene is completely preposterous because Logan is absurdly easy-going for a teenager who has seen his father die in front of his eyes and has then been dragged away from home by his mother to escape threatening poverty, and the tensions between his mother and him have been so absurdly mild given the situation the scene rings completely wrong.

This is absolutely indicative of the script’s main problem. It sets up a situation, comes up with a couple of big scenes related to that situation but doesn’t bother to fill in the blanks that would emotionally and thematically connect any of it. For most of the time, this feels like a film written by people who can’t even imagine how their characters might feel in any given situation and so just choose not to write any reactions for them at all. Consequently, little of what anyone does here is based on anything an actual human being would feel or do. From this perspective, it’s really no surprise Logan has no friends he is missing, and that Naomi doesn’t have a single person to call when shit gets weird – when the police doesn’t help, Logan eventually calls in what must be the only other person in the neighbouring town, a salesperson who has been randomly flirting with his Ma, in a particularly absurd turn.

Now, if this were a film about social isolation and poverty, and the resulting helplessness expressed through the horror form, some of this would even make thematic sense, but it’s really the result of a script that doesn’t even begin to think the situation it puts its characters in, and the characters themselves, through, instead going through a bunch of well worn standard horror thriller plot beats without giving any of these beats a reason to exist at all.

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