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The Open House #MovieReview

After a personal tragedy rocks teenager Logan’s world, his mother, struggling financially, moves them into her sister’s house. There’s a catch: the house is for sale, and a series of Open House events leaves the mother and son team jumping at shadows and mysterious happenings in the night.

Tagline: You can’t lock out what’s already inside
Directors: Matt Angel, Suzanne Coote
Starring:  Dylan Minnette, Piercey Dalton, Patricia Bethune, Sharif Atkins
Released: 2018
Runtime:  1 hr 34 minutes
Space Krakens Earned: 2 out of 5

Warning: this review contains mild spoilers.

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The Open House Review

Oh, boy. Here it comes: the review I didn’t like writing. Not, I should hasten to add, because this was a bad film. Technically, it was well put together, chilling in parts and extremely well performed by a solid cast.

However. Personal preference dictates that whether a person does or doesn’t like a movie is subjective, which colours movie reviews with something directors probably hate: bias. And my particular brand of bias meant I didn’t enjoy The Open House. I do feel rather bad about this, because I can appreciate the attention to detail and skill that has gone into making this film.

And yet.

This Netflix special stars Dylan Minnette, who you’ve seen in horror flicks Don’t Breathe, Let Me In, and R.L.Stine’s The Haunting Hour, among others. But most importantly, you’ve seen him in the devastating and highly affecting Netflix drama 13 Reasons Why, in which Minnette delivered such an incredibly moving performance that he instantly lodged himself in my estimation as an actor to watch closely over the coming years. Just not in this film- and not because of his acting.  

The film opens as many do, with an accident and the death of a parent, an event which overshadows much of what follows- a mother and her teenage son struggling to come to terms with their grief. Behind all this we have a large and spooky house, which the pair move into for financial reasons. The house is for sale, and there are a number of Open House events, which personally have always creeped me out, and do provide a chilling premise- how do you know if everyone has left after the doors have closed for the day?

What follows next is a mix of creepypasta-inspired thrills- things being moved or going missing, hot water shutting off, photographs appearing and disappearing, red herrings, old ladies with dementia- more than enough tropes to keep people happy. It is interwoven with some nice moments of examination and tenderness between mother and son, and also creates the impression we are building to a dramatic end, abelit slowly. Logan and Naomi Wallace are given depth and nuance, and are set up believably as survivors making the best of the terrible lot they’ve been given. Logan, in particular, is presented as a nice boy, a kind one, who cares about his mother and misses his father terribly. He works hard to convince us of how he is haunted by the death of his dad, and it works: we are suitably sucked in. We start to care about the kid.


Without spoiling it, let’s just say the landing of this film successfully undermines the preceding hour I sat through wondering where it was all going. I found myself angry at how things panned out for everyone involved. Why go through all that, just to end the way it did? By the credits I felt vastly annoyed at the movie for putting both mother and son through so much without shame. I mean even Wolf Creek had a tiny, warped sliver of hopefulness in it, and I hated that film with a passion.

And so begins my TED talk on characterisation.

Time was, horror didn’t rely too heavily on character development, particularly in the nineties and noughties, favouring action over emotion- I’m looking at you, Final Destination, Saw, and most films of a similar ilk with a giant franchise attached to them. I’m not saying this is bad thing, not one bit. These kinds of movies still have a lot of punch and heart and enthusiasm, and I enjoy a good romp with a chainsaw as much anyone else.

However, the films that always worked for me best were those where character was key: Let the Right One In, The Mist, The Devil’s Backbone, and so on. Again, this is just personal preference, but I always think you can wrap horror around a believable protagonist, and create something more impactful as a result: it hurts you when they hurt, it scares you when they are scared, you get the idea. Take our recent spate of ‘elevated horror’- and yes, whoever invented that phrase needs a good spank with a large marble paddle. Hereditary, Get Out, and Birdbox are horrifyingly scary films about horrifyingly real people- my favourite type of entertainment. I want immersion, and relationships, and realistic dialogue. I want to like these people,or hate them, or at least understand them before the shit hits the fan. I don’t want ambivalence. Otherwise what’s the point? But again, this is just me. Like I said, this doesn’t render me incapable of enjoying Leprechaun or Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but it’s a very different viewing experience for me- the movie tends to slide off, instead of stick.

And yet. (I might get this stitched on a t-shirt).

For me, character development is a thing that works in horror when there is an END THAT JUSTIFIES THE MEANS. For example, Ginger Snaps– two girls who are drawn together and then torn apart by supernatural occurrences. Their characters serve to remind us of the monstrous trials of puberty and adolescence, and their dynamic does this very well, setting up a close relationship with two likeable girls only to deconstruct that relationship to great effect. It’s dramatic and rounded and ultimately, a justified exercise in horror.

What we have here, with The Open House, is not that. Instead we have a large set-up, a lot of effort expended on believable characters we can empathise with…and an ending that feels like a giant middle finger to the viewer who has invested in it all.

Good things: there is one scene in this that truly gave me the heebies, although anyone who has watched every series of Luther with Idris Elba will be kind of inured to this sort of stuff, which says more about our society than I would like I think. And the main premise is, as I said, a frightening one: you’re not safe in your own home. Which mainlines straight to the heart of what scares me the most, and is probably why I avoid home invasion films a lot of the time.

But the good doesn’t outweigh the frustrating for me, I’m afraid. It does what it does effectively, if in a drawn out way, with some excellent performances, but is a deeply unsatisfying viewing experience, and I came away feeling weary.

Published inMovie Reviews
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