In He Said/She Said, critics Joe and Valeska dissect a film in a back and forth email exchange. Previously, we winced and shuddered our way through visceral maternal horror film L’interieur (2007). This time, we’re choosing whether to love or list Netflix original The Open House (2017).
Let’s bitch it out…
Synopsis: “Following a tragedy, Naomi Wallace (Piercey Dalton) and her teen son Logan (Dylan Minette) move to a relative’s vacant vacation home, where eerie and unexplained forces conspire against them.”
I’ll be honest — I went into this film really wanting to like it, or at least to find something to like in it. I’d heard the terrible reviews and kind of wanted to be contrary about it and thumb my nose at the general consensus. That approach lasted about as long as the first act.
Obviously, there are a lot of issues with the ending of the film, in terms of story, tone, and logic. And we will get to those, of course. But I think my biggest immediate takeaway from the film is its overall lack of emotional depth, particularly for a film wherein the inciting incident is the gruesome death of a family member, particularly when that death is witnessed by the deceased’s child. In a film that is, ostensibly, concerned with grief and the aftermath of familial tragedy, there seemed to be precious little real emotion portrayed. Certainly, it’s impossible to mandate how people deal with loss — there is no “proper” way to grieve, but if I hadn’t seen the actual accident happen at the beginning of the film, I don’t know that it would have factored into the way that I related to the characters throughout the rest of it.
While emotionally sterile, the film does feature some pretty interesting camera work — while I may have been bored by the story at times, visually I remained engaged. And the house itself was a fantastic setting. But I can’t help but feel that the film would have perhaps worked better as a haunting story, or at least would have benefited from playing up that potential a little bit more. Perhaps that would have wrung a little bit more emotion from the characters? Another issue I had was with the creation of a number of tantalizing threads that went nowhere (the neighbour, for instance).
I don’t know, Joe — there were so many ways to make this a better film, and I’m a little frustrated. There is obviously some real talent behind The Open House, and there were so many small glimpses of an interesting story tucked behind what we ultimately got. Do you have any overall comments on the story or the character dynamics? Or shall we jump right into that ending?
It’s interesting that you highlight the inefficiency of the opening car crash because I spent the entire first ⅓ of the film 100% convinced that The Open House was going to pull a split personality reveal on us and reveal that Logan is the one who killed his father Brian (Aaron Abrams). Logan’s repeated nightmares/flashbacks, the way that major details of the accident go unseen, and the fact that the accident occurs immediately after the discussion between Brian and Naomi about moving all seemed like cues that Logan lashed out when his “Olympic” training regimen was threatened by his father’s activities (whatever they – and the dire financial issues the family faced – were).
Interestingly when I voiced this opinion to my husband, he confided that he believed that the hit and run was some kind of hit on Brian (mob or gambling debts) and that Logan saw something he shouldn’t have seen that turned him and Naomi into a target. This would explain the repeated shots of Logan looking in the side mirror during the accident and the presence of the man in the house.
Of course we know that neither of these hypotheses are true because nothing in The Open House adds up to anything! The fact that both of these options seem (at least partially) plausible reinforces just how bad the screenplay is. Not only do none of the emotional beats or character development elements work as you point out, there’s seems to be no narrative rhyme or reason for characters to exist. In any other film at least one of the following characters – the sister, the neighbour, the repairman, the bitchy real estate woman – would have returned and been murdered, but The Open House either doesn’t know this or doesn’t care.
And this is where my leap of faith comes in: I actually think that all of the red herrings, the dropped plot points, the five different kinds of subgenre conventions that The Open House is pulling from is a deliberate decision by co-writers/directors Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote. The bleak, open-ending suggests that they designed the whole film as one big “gotcha!” twist. The Open House is intentionally constructed to make us believe that we’re watching a horror film that is leading to a genuine reveal, when in reality we’re actually just watching 85 minutes of nothing to get to a 2 minute uninspired riff on The Strangers.
So let’s talk about that ending, V. Is it the ballsiest thing in an otherwise uninspired film or just the cherry on top of a shit sundae?
I’ll be going full-on spoilers from this point on, so anyone who hasn’t seen the movie and plans to (and who am I to tell you not to?) should probably just skip ahead to the ratings section at the end.
I want to touch on the gambling debt aspect that you mentioned — that’s definitely a thought that popped into my head when the mother described the spooky dining room table tableau as being “personal”, and when the killer began breaking her fingers one by one. But then it wasn’t confirmed! (And if it had been confirmed, I would have bitched about the fact that mob enforcers don’t lay in wait in people’s basements for 4 days, so whatever.)
Yes, I can see your point about the multiple red herrings being a deliberate choice, but I can still be upset about the loss of any number of tantalizing paths that the film could have taken, but didn’t. More upset, even, because this could have been a genuinely interesting film. And the ending. That unfortunate ending. Ballsy? Maybe. But ballsy doesn’t mean clever, or entertaining, or even good. Apart from the cinematography (and some surprisingly great music choices), the main thing that The Open House had going for it was its atmosphere. Any tension I felt going into that ending dissipated rather quickly. Tonally, it didn’t work for me. The logic behind the plotting didn’t work for me. The ice-brows didn’t work for me.
One thing that did genuinely terrify me was the contact lens scene — I am effectively blind without prescription lenses, so the idea of facing a killer (or life in general) without contacts or glasses is horrifying. But then the film doesn’t really even play with that idea at all! Grrrr!
I think that I would have appreciated this cinematic experiment a little more if they’d taken the time to develop the characters. If they’d given me any reason at all to sink my heart into the film. But they didn’t, so the “gotcha” factor fell flat for me. I love bleak nihilism as much as the next girl, but you’ve got to woo me a little. (Side-note: would that make a good Tinder bio?)
A few questions regarding the final 25 minutes:
- How did the killer know to play that one specific song by the obscure band Shannon & The Clams? Did he happen to know the name and artist by strange coincidence, or did he find the most-played track on Logan’s iTunes account when Logan left his laptop unattended and unlocked? Would a teenage boy even opt out of having a lockscreen?
- Why even leave Logan alive on the driveway to begin with? Was the killer expecting him to actually freeze to death? That seems incredibly inefficient and risky — is it the killer’s first time? It’s certainly implied by the last scene that this isn’t the case. Perhaps he is just very, very bad at this hobby and should instead take up scrapbooking. No shame in trying and failing, mystery man!
- The killer stopped to remove both SIM cards instead of just pocketing the phones or throwing them out the window? F*ck off.
This movie has me feeling so heated and petty that I think I need to go make myself a hot chocolate and meditate for a while. Before I go, I’m going to give The Open House a 4 out of 10, and one of those points can be attributed to that cheerful earworm of a song. What say you, Joe?
I concur with everything you said. I will admit that I kind of love the ending of the film and it’s been fascinating to watch reviews roll in online from people who are so upset about not knowing the man’s identity or bemoaning that Logan doesn’t survive. That’s the only part that works, people! Sure it belittles nearly everything that came before, but as we’ve discussed for several thousand words now, clearly what came before wasn’t all that great. The finality of casually murdering two people and then driving to the next open house is awesomely bleak and had the rest of the film had this kind of audacity, we probably wouldn’t be disparaging it.
Still, all together it doesn’t add up. As much as I loved the very ending, the rest of the film is boring, mildly incoherent and poorly paced. The Open House doesn’t even have the benefit of a short run time (90 minutes?! Get out of here). So no, I can’t recommend this or score it highly. 3/10 for me.
P.S. My biggest gripe about the film: who turns off a flashlight in order to light a pilot in the pitch blackness? Everyone, I mean everyone, would just prop it up somewhere. Humans don’t act this way!
P.P.S. Yes, “Woo me with bleak nihilish” sounds suitable for Tinder.
Next time: Pinhead is back (kinda/sorta) for a tenth round when Hellraiser: Judgement arrives on VOD Feb 13. Join us as we try to master this latest iteration of the Lament Configuration!