[Review] THE OPEN HOUSE Is Just A Vacant Spot In The Neighborhood

Have you ever, like, noticed how weird open houses are? Apparently, I didn’t think they were, until The Open House hit Netflix on January 19th and I was able to see for myself what the horrid consequences of hosting one would be.

The Open House centers on Netflix original 13 Reasons Why and Don’t Breathe star Dylan Minnette and his mother, played by Piercey Dalton (The Orchard). The two find themselves in a hopeless situation following a family tragedy that leads them to move into a relative’s empty vacation house where they are “besieged by threatening forces”.

Being acquired by one of the top streaming services out there (that turns out horror gems like a mining valley), starring a currently very popular teen star, and entailing a simple ‘haunted house’ premise means The Open House would surely be good, right?

Wrong. Oh, so wrong.

Before I rip through this, because there is A LOT of ripping to do, my overall point here is that The Open House ultimately fails because it tries to be everything its not. What viewers need to know first and foremost about The Open House is that we, the horror community, have seen this before. Every part of this movie from the ‘stylish’ camera angles to the final ‘twist’ is taken from another, better film and artist.

It’s obvious in the film industry, that writers and directors draw influence from somewhere. That somewhere is almost always previously existing films ranging from actual plot to directing techniques. At this point almost all horror tropes have been covered or touched in some way, but it takes a special filmmaker to take a practical plot line, like a haunted house, and turn it on its head. Writer and director, Matt Angel (Ha/lf), is not that filmmaker. What he has done with his first opportunity to write and direct an official feature length horror film wind’s up mocking the talent and creative storytelling techniques used by those that have come before him.

The only positive and redeeming qualities The Open House has, that I would like to get out of the way, is the decent acting and the pretty intense score. Both, however, are quickly undermined by the forced ‘style’ Angel tries to cop from films ranging from Get Out to Funny Games. I admit I don’t know much about cinematography, but I know enough to sense a director’s certain style and I know when enough is enough. Each important shot in this film is different from the another, borrowing from well-recognized angles like James Wan’s panoramic scene movements to M. Night Shyamalan’s trademark perspective angles. Angel overuses distinct techniques almost as if to cover the spread of what’s popular in horror right now. False style and a narrative lacking any meaning and depth is not exactly what viewers want.

Basically, it feels as though he watched the most popular horror and genre films of the last ten years, put together some shallow and pretentious formula, thought ‘Easy, I could do that!’, and made this passionless, pointless Frankenstein of a movie to get himself out onto the scene.

I imagine him working on this was a lot like that scene in Scream 3 where Scott Foley’s director character rants about wanting to make a love story, but he has to make a horror movie first because the studio is making him to do it. You know what I’m talking about, right?

Okay, now that I’ve got that out of my system, I feel it’s necessary to go through the narrative, step-by-step in order to really justify why I feel this way toward a harmless, but wasteful, Netflix addition. No one likes negative reviews and, hopefully, no one likes to write them. I can find the good in most films from wide releases to the most obscure C-rated horror movie, but if I’m deeply disappointed I like to detail exactly why.

SPOILERS (which are only necessary to review a movie that is this bad)

Minnette’s character, Logan, and his mother, Naomi, are quickly hit with grief following the sudden traumatic and accidental death of Logan’s father (it’s incredibly similar to the opening sequence of Disturbia). We learn through many passive-aggressive comments made by Naomi throughout the movie that this has left her and her son in financial stress which we later learn was because of her husband ‘not caring’ enough to leave her and Logan well-off in the event of his untimely death. No insurance? Don’t middle-aged women typically murder their husbands to cash-out on their life insurance policies? Anyways

Her nameless sister offers up a vacant vacation home that she and Logan can live in because she can’t afford the bills alone which Naomi takes her up on. The catch? They have to be out of the house whenever an open house is scheduled, which sounds to me like a much bigger hassle than finding a job on my own. We never hear from the sister character again, not because she gets caught up in some sinister situation or anything, but because of true carelessness on Angel’s part.

Logan and Naomi make their way up to the mountain mansion, nearly hitting a phantom figure out on the road in the dark (here I would cite all of the movies this scene is a ripoff of, but we don’t have that time). I won’t even do a review the disservice of ranting about jump scares. I feel, typically, it’s a staple tactic for a scary movie (how else can a general audience truly get scared without them?), so I am not drawing attention to the fact that it was a cheap thrill because The Open House has plenty of those, but that it was both important to the twist at the end and so unimportant at the same time.


the open house

Deciding to stop at a gas station in town, we are introduced to two of the most useless character written for effect and for the sake of being red herrings: the old, loony, invasive neighbor who knows entirely too much about everyone, Martha, played by Patricia Bethune (Longmire, True Blood) and the odd, all too forward and friendly store clerk Chris, played by Sharif Atkins (White Collar). The entire scene, and really any other scene including Martha or Chris, is heavy with the feeling that something is off about them.

Martha mentions the death of her own husband and recognizes Naomi and Logan from pictures her neighbor, Naomi’s sister, showed her in one scene. In later scenes where she is randomly walking their lawn in the dead of night she does not recognize Logan, and later after that she drops in unannounced with banana bread and confusingly mentions that her husband is alive to Naomi. In one of her final scenes, Martha appears on the road Logan is running on (oh yeah, he’s a runner) and creepily insists on driving him home after he gets sick.

One minute Chris is just a sweet, possible love interest for Naomi much to Logan’s dismay, and the next he is awkwardly showing up at the house and requesting to see the inside. Just for the reader’s information, this house has no significance whatsoever other than the fact that it is big. There is no back story, no ghostly history, no one murdered Old Man Anderson with an axe in the basement, or anything like that, so I was very puzzled as to why this man would want to look around and why Naomi would let him. How this happens I don’t know, but Naomi loses track of Chris going in and out of the rooms and just assumes he’s left.

I only summarize these scenes because they have absolutely nothing to do with the plot whatsoever. They mimic the oddities of the characters seen in Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Shyamalan’s The Visit, but serve no purpose other than to lead viewers into thinking there is something there that there really, truly isn’t. I don’t think Matt Angel fully understands the way a red herrings is meant to be used in a film.

Halfway through this mess Logan begins to notice strange things happening around the house. Supernatural-type strange things. His cell phone, glasses, and cereal bowl appear and reappear. Doors open slowly within the frame (very similar to Paranormal Activity and that iconic scene in The Strangers). Naomi is plagued, and I mean plagued, with every woman’s worst nightmare while taking a shower: cold water.

The pilot light is blown out more times than I could even stand to keep track of. Each time this happens, towel-clad Naomi, goes down to the pitch black basement to relight it (each time a gimmick of Lily Taylor’s match-lighting scene in The Conjuring). Logan is, of course, equally plagued with memories of his father’s death and with vivid hallucinations of him in the basement.

open house netflix

On top of all of this they are shooed out of their house by a bossy real estate agent and her eager assistant twice for open house showings. Twice. Each time providing us with less than pivotal scenes involving Logan and his mother included just to move things along. Always looking for the twist before it comes, I was getting the feeling that possibly Logan and his mother were not really there themselves, maybe they were dead the way The Others perfectly tricks you? Maybe that has something to do with them having to be out of the house? Unfortunately, not even that was the case. The narrative of this story has all the makings, turns, and questions that eventually transpire into a huge twist at the end, but it is far from sophisticated enough to execute one.

Eventually the disappearance and reappearance of things in the house takes a toll on the relationship between mother and son. There is a pretty harsh explosion over the crumpling of a family photo where Naomi and Logan lash out at one another kind of out of nowhere. There is no development to either of these characters nor growth or lack thereof in their relationship so it’s more of a scene to roll your eyes over.

While watching this I found myself thinking that something has to be going on. There is going to be some revelation in the end to tie all of this weirdness together, that’s usually what happens with a divisive genre film, and it will all make sense. What the audience gets is the ‘twist’ mirroring that of Housebound and The Boy. Logan and his mother are finally met with the malevolent force in the third act. I’ve cut out a lot of details, again for the sake of time, because they have absolutely nothing to do with the development or ending whatsoever.

The cause of all the seemingly supernatural happenings? A faceless, nameless stranger has been living among them in the house slowly stalking and playing with the mother and son before deciding to end both of their lives. The entire finale of this movie is an absolute disaster resulting in huge flaws from the stranger knocking Logan out cold and dosing him in water causing him to freeze to the ground unable to move (and run!) to Naomi stumbling into the sharp end of Logan’s frigid, shaking knife-holding hand. With icicles literally brandishing his eyebrows, Logan escapes into the forest, but the stranger eventually catches up and strangles the life out of him. The stranger departs and the audience, if they haven’t stabbed themselves with their own knives yet, watch as he trucks off into the unknown past another open house sign.

Angel’s message throughout this wreck of a story is just simple: you never know who will come in and stay if you have public open house showings. This stranger is apparently an open house killer and the story we were fed just so happened to center on this mother and son going through a grievous (yet unimportant to the plot) time in their lives? I’m sorry, but the whole “Because you were home” reasoning behind The Strangers does not work here. The story tries so hard to match the incredibly powerful and dreadful ending of Funny Games, but it falls extremely flat and frozen. You’ll need to watch The Open House to get the full effect of that last joke.

open house movie

Angel tried to incorporate too many parts into his Franken-movie and, unfortunately, all of the parts did not fit well together. It wound up being a mixture destructive only to itself. The dead father motif combined with the odd, very weird neighbor characters, mixed with the supernatural-happenings-actually-being-a-person-in-the-walls ending made for a very sloppy, depth-less, empty story. I find myself encouraging others to watch it just so that we can discuss all of the horrible things wrong with it.

The disappointed audience is left with questions, but not in a good way. As much as it wants to, this film is not the equivalent to that of modern ground-breaking genre films that leave their audiences with conversation bits and thoughts after they end, but instead it left us with the question we all hate asking ourselves once the credits roll: What the hell did I just watch?

The real irony here is that The Open House is indeed like a real open house: it’s vacant, and empty on the inside, the details are staged to make it look like something it’s not, it’s represented by a company name you recognize and trust, you feel optimistic going in, but wind up running out screaming because there is a deal-breaker looming beneath the surface. It’s not usually a psychotic, murderous squatter, but it happens. Huge dealbreaker.




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