Monday, January 22, 2018

On Netflix: THE OPEN HOUSE (2018)

(US - 2018)

Written and directed by Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote. Cast: Dylan Minnette, Piercey Dalton, Patricia Bethune, Sharif Atkins, Aaron Abrams, Edward Olson, Katie Walder, Paul Rae, Leigh Parker, Kathryn Beckwith, Matt Angel. (Unrated, 94 mins)

An intriguing and occasionally effective chiller hobbled by one of the most egregiously awful third-act collapses in recent memory, the Netflix Original film THE OPEN HOUSE draws from films like BLACK CHRISTMAS, WHEN A STRANGER CALLS, HUSH, and the lesser-known HIDER IN THE HOUSE. HIDER IN THE HOUSE starred Gary Busey as a psycho who manages to live in the attic of the home of Mimi Rogers and Michael McKean without being detected, and somewhat similarly, THE OPEN HOUSE explores the notion of someone hiding in a still-occupied home that's on the market, coming in for an open house with others milling about and simply not leaving. Teenager Logan Wallace (Dylan Minnette of DON'T BREATHE and the Netflix series 13 REASONS WHY) is still grieving the tragic death of his father Brian (Aaron Abrams), who was hit by a speeding car while walking across a parking lot. The bills are piling up, and Logan's financially strapped mom Naomi (Piercey Dalton) loses the house. Her sister Allison (Katie Walder) convinces them to leave L.A. and stay at the spacious house she has up for sale in a sparsely-populated area of the Pacific Northwest until they get back on their feet. The only catch is that they have to leave for several hours on Sundays so the realtor can hold an open house. Neither Naomi or Logan are enthused about it, but they're desperate and have little choice.

It isn't long before strange things start happening: Logan's phone disappears, the pilot keeps going out on the water heater whenever Naomi's in the shower, doors slam, there's thumping sounds, a family photo is found crumpled up in the trash, and the phone rings with no one answering and the only sound being an echo of Naomi or Logan saying "Hello." The already tense relationship between mother and son frays further when Naomi is convinced Logan is acting out over his father's death despite his insistence that he's not to blame. We know what Logan and Naomi do not: a man dressed in black (Edward Olson) visited during a busy open house one Sunday afternoon and never left. We periodically see him lingering and hovering in the background. He plays games with them, hiding under Logan's bed and moving his glasses from the nightstand, or leaving photos for Naomi to find that show the two of them sound asleep in the middle of the night, observed by a silent intruder.

THE OPEN HOUSE is a slow-burner punctuated by a few solid jump scares and a pervasive sense of unease and dread. The cold, wintry setting, some early mountain road aerial shots, the use of the Steadicam, and suspense set-pieces accompanied by manic strings display a heavy SHINING influence for the feature debut writing/directing team of Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote. And for a while, THE OPEN HOUSE manages to hold your attention despite not being all that original. It's hard to screw something like this up, but Angel and Coote shit the bed in spectacular fashion. Not only do they leave several plot points unattended--what does Naomi mean when she angrily tells Logan that his father never cared about them, why does the creepy basement have tunnels that look like the catacombs of Paris, and what's with the eccentric neighbor lady (Patricia Bethune) who ultimately has nothing to do with anything? Ambiguity is one thing, but this is straight-up negligence. Any seasoned genre fan will have the fate of nice-guy townie and potential Naomi love interest Chris (Sharif Atkins) figured out almost immediately after he's introduced, so much so that his name may as well be "Dead Meat." But the whole thing is in smoldering ruins by the end, with the Man in Black finally making his presence known to Naomi and Logan. Unexpectedly downbeat finales are true gut-punches when done right, but Angel and Coote cross the line from downbeat to just being dicks, with the climax basically flushing the rest of the movie--and the solid performances of Minnette and Dalton--right down the crapper in a failed attempt to go full edgelord. It's the kind of crummy ending that qualifies as contempt for the audience. You don't leave THE OPEN HOUSE thinking you just saw a gut-punch of an ending. You leave it feeling like you pissed away an hour and a half only to have the filmmakers chuckle and call you a dumbass. Do I even need to mention that the door is left open for a sequel?

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