Judge William Lee never lets strange women use his hot tub...because he has no hot tub.
Welcome to the neighborhood.
Like many novice filmmakers looking to prove themselves, writer-director Andrew Paquin contributes to the horror genre for his debut feature effort. Typically, horror movies are made on the cheap and delivering some sex and bloody violence is enough to satisfy the target audience. Simply checking off the necessary ingredients, however, doesn't guarantee a successful horror movie. If it isn't scary, the audience knows it.
Facts of the Case
Alice (Rachel Blanchard, Snakes on a Plane) and her husband are soon to be divorced (maybe she's already divorced, I'm not sure) but in the meantime she is living alone in what was their dream home. Her house becomes her dungeon when a pair of psychopaths takes over the house while it's being shown to potential buyers. David (Brian Geraghty, Easier With Practice) and Lila (Tricia Helfer, Battlestar Galactica), who have done this before, get their kicks by killing the owners, setting themselves up as residents and then inviting more victims over for their murderous pleasure. For some reason, David can't bring himself to kill Alice so he keeps her locked up in a crawl space in the basement. Will Alice be able to escape their clutches?
Open House is a soulless movie that was probably a positive filmmaking exercise for its director but offers viewers little reward for their patience. The overall mood of the film, from its look to its characterizations, is cold. The prospect of following two cold-blooded killers as they lay the trap for their victims could have resulted in an unsettling thriller. However, there is no one to sympathize with and there is little depth to the story that ultimately provides no resolution.
The movie seems unsure who its protagonist is. A number of characters appear just long enough to get killed, including one played by the director's Oscar-winning sister Anna Paquin (True Blood). Alice is spared but she isn't a very compelling heroine as she spends much of her screen time locked in small, dark spaces. Alice is rightfully afraid and she reacts appropriately whenever David torments her or kills people who might help her escape. After a while she starts to act more friendly toward David. At another point she manages to sneak a knife from the kitchen. How she comes to make certain decisions and what she is planning to do in order to escape is left to the viewers' inference. We can see that Alice is afraid but we never get to know what is going on inside her head.
David and Lily probably get more screen time than Alice anyway so maybe they're the real protagonists? Too bad they are played as one-dimensional robots. When he isn't the efficient, baby-faced killing machine, David is quiet and tortured. Lily slinks around in designer clothes like a seduct-o-tron knowing no man or woman can resist her. Her point is proven when Alice's husband Josh (Stephen Moyer, 88 Minutes) finds her in the hot tub. Though he has no idea who she is or why she's in the house, Josh decides it's fine to get undressed and join her. There are a few revelations about their history but the enigmatic David and Lily remain loathsome (which is bad) and uninteresting (which is worse). It is hard to root for the murderous couple because they are such mechanical creations and it's impossible to feel for any of their victims because they're idiotic and weak lambs to the slaughter. When the movie goes through the motions of the climactic final confrontation, I didn't care if any of the participants died or survived.
Open House gets a decent hi-def presentation on this disc from Lionsgate. Fitting the cold tone of the movie, the image has a neutral (almost bleached) color palette but the details are crisply sharp. From the walls of the house to the actors' faces, surface textures are exactingly rendered in AVC 1080p resolution. Many scenes take place in the dark and black levels are deep, leaving only subtle detailing in the shadows. The 5.1 DTS-HD audio works just fine for the movie. The sound stage remains frontal and the dialogue clear throughout. This isn't a movie that requires precise surround effects so you won't miss their absence.
The main extra is a commentary by Andrew Paquin and Brian Geraghty. It takes them a few minutes to get relaxed and into a rhythm but they share a lot of anecdotes about the production and talk positively about working with everyone involved. Paquin often reacts to what's on screen by stating the meaning of a character's look or the significance of an action. I'm not sure if he was just trying to fill in the dead spots of the commentary or if he was worried the audience didn't get it.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The movie isn't a great first feature but the director gets credit for avoiding at least one horror movie cliché: the false alarm jump scare punctuated by the loud music sting. The movie doesn't resort to that sort of cheap shock and makes a valiant attempt to create tension through the cinematography and staging of action in confined spaces. There are three deleted scenes included among the disc's extras. These scenes are interesting story points but they would unnecessarily slow down the movie. If Paquin made the call to leave out those moments, he made the right decision.
This is a competently made movie but it contains nothing to distinguish itself from other thrillers about good looking killers and their helpless victims—Funny Games is a superior and more disturbing example. Lastly, Lionsgate's cover art is curiously misleading. On the front, five actors' faces are arranged so that those with the least screen time are more prominent in the foreground. The plot synopsis on the back describes a couple fighting off a lone assailant who poses as a potential buyer. I can't recommend the movie but the people in charge of its marketing could have at least had the courtesy to know what they were talking about.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Review content copyright © 2010 William Lee; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.