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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Open House (2010) (Blu-ray)
Open House (2010) (Blu-ray)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment // R // August 3, 2010 // Region A
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted July 18, 2010 | E-mail the Author
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Marble countertops...hardwood floors...a hot tub with a brick base...top-of-the-line appliances...a couple of murderous psychopaths...this palatial Los Angeles estate kind of has it all!

See, Alice (Rachel Blanchard) just broke it off with her boyfriend Josh (Stephen Moyer). She may have gotten their particularly gorgeous house out of the deal, but that doesn't amount to much since she can't exactly swing the mortgage on her own. Her realtor's been aggressively showing the place in a series of open houses, but it's a tough market, and it's only that much more brutal when everyone who steps inside is hacked apart into bloody, fist-sized chunks. I guess I should back up a bit. Lila (Tricia Helfer) and David (Brian Geraghty) had snuck in during one of those showings, and even though they opted not to make an offer, they couldn't bring themselves to leave either. The scheme's the same as it usually is for these two serial killers: slaughter the homeowners, spend their days working and gallivanting around like any happily married couple would, and devote their evenings to videotaping murder and mayhem.

David and Lila aren't the sorts of depraved sadists torn out of similar sounding movies like The Strangers or Funny Games. They're not the type to torture or torment. The way this game is played, Lila seduces her next victim, David quietly sets up the camcorder, and then one of them whips out a butcher knife. The poor bastard rarely even knows what's coming until blood is gushing out of an artery. This time, though, David's decided to change the rules. Rather than chopping her up and dumping what's left in a Coleman cooler in the garage, David's decided to keep Alice alive. During the day, she's allowed to come out to the rest of the house, chained closely to David as he clacks away at his laptop. Once the sun starts to set again, she's shuttled back to a crawlspace off the basement. If Lila were to find out that Alice hasn't been carved apart, she'll do the job herself, so this has to stay their little secret... Alice desperately wants to escape, and as it turns out, she's not the only one. It's hard for Alice to worm her way too deeply into David's heart when he's hacking apart everyone who rings the doorbell, though, and abandoning the only life he's ever known is easier said than done.

Most home invasion thrillers go for a more visceral...more intense approach. Open House, feeling that's all been done before, tries to keep it more psychological. The body count isn't small, but most of the attacks are swift and end quickly. There's no toying or tormenting...no reveling in their victims' agony. Lila's foreplay is purely sexual, and she only thrusts in the knife as an orgasmic release. Writer/director Andrew Paquin chooses not to get too caught up in the splatter, focusing instead on the relationships between these characters. Lila has an insatiable appetite for these carnal desires. She's both the worm and the hook, drawing in her prey, seducing them into letting down their guard, and frequently the one to deliver the killing blow. Despite her modelesque looks, Lila is decidedly insecure, constantly trying to wring out another compliment. Setting aside the fact that they're both seasoned murderers, her relationship with David is extremely
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unusual as well, alternating between mothering him as if he were a helpless child, acting like a petulant brat herself, and bickering like an old married couple: sister, mother, and wife in one package. David, meanwhile, is quiet and methodical. He doesn't leave the house. David rarely speaks, and when he does, it's flat and emotionless. In the moments before a dinner party, he has to practice polite laughter in front of a mirror...that's not something that comes naturally. He's dominated by Lila. He resents it but can't escape it...can't tear himself apart from her. In David's eyes, Alice seems to represent an idealized version of Lila. Both are impossibly gorgeous blondes, and...hell, they even share the same dress size. David sees Alice as untainted and unspoiled, and for once, he's the one in control. She's a daydream at the end of a metal chain he can drag wherever he wants. That drive for dominance isn't sexual; David just wants to feel as if he's the one holding the reins. Alice can see these glimmers of emotion start to break through and plays off them as best she can. He desperately wants to run away with Alice, and David's struggle is to decide how far to take this fantasy.

I really want to like Open House, and I certainly respect its approach. I've seen plenty of home invasion thrillers, from The Strangers down to If I Die Before I Wake, but I've never watched one quite like this...where the survivor is a closely guarded secret, not a sack of meat to be sliced and stabbed. The sort of sticky depravity I'm used to from these sorts of movies never really creeps in. The body count's respectable, and a good bit of blood is sloshed around, but again, it's more orgasmic in nature...more about the release. There's a definite downside to that, of course. There's essentially no room for tension or suspense. We know who's getting killed and when. The usual cat-and-mouse games...frantic chases, someone cowering in a claustrophobic closet while the murderer skulks around the room hunting for her...there's very little of that to be found here. There are two killers in Open House, and Alice is the only victim who meets them and survives long enough to make it into another scene. One of the murderers thinks she's been chopped up into tiny parts, and the other is trying his damndest to keep her alive. A couple of questions linger -- when will Lila figure out that David's been hiding Alice? Will David snap and hack Alice apart anyway? -- but Paquin rarely manages to eke any tension out of them. The lack of immediate danger whenever Alice is in front of the camera throttles the suspense. There really aren't any moments that shocked or surprised me either. Open House has a couple of reasonably effective moments -- the inevitable confrontation in the climax, in particular -- but the movie never gets unnervingly intense. Even with its lean 87 minute runtime, Open House is such a slow burn that it seems a lot longer than that.

Since this is starting to read more like an essay
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than a movie review, I'm sure it comes across that I find Lila and David kind of fascinating on an intellectual level, I guess, but I don't really care about them as characters. There's not a strong emotional hook to drag me in, and what they do isn't visceral enough to provoke a reaction in that sense either. Don't get me wrong; I don't have any gripes at all with Tricia Helfer or Brian Geraghty's performances here. Helfer is certainly experienced at playing a manipulative vamp, and Geraghty captures the sort of stillness and lack of emotion I'd expect to see in a sociopath. So many of these types of killers in other movies devolve into dementedly over-the-top, scenery-gnawing cartoons, and I appreciate that Open House doesn't tear off in that direction. I just never really connected with them, and I'm not sure how to describe it any more effectively than that. Rachel Blanchard is saddled with a part that doesn't ask much more of her than to look terrified for an hour and a half. She turns into the Final Girl at the very end, but for the rest of the movie, she's just Alice In Chains. She's primarily a sounding board for David...there because the plot needs to her to be around rather than much of a character in her own right. Alice is written as a strong and reasonably intelligent woman, and throughout the movie, you can see her working through her terror and subtly trying to manipulate the situation...feeling out what's required to survive, even if that demands being submissive. Still, Alice isn't active enough to root for as some kind of heroine, and we're not given too much of a chance to get to know her before she's shackled in the basement. None of the movie's three central characters resonate, but Alice has it the worst. Fair warning to anyone picking up Open House: even though the two stars of True Blood are the most prominently featured on the cover art, Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer are limited to extended cameos. It is kind of great to hear Moyer speak with his natural British accent rather than the Southern-fried one he's adopted for True Blood, though.

Open House has clearly had a fair amount of thought and consideration invested in it -- this isn't a paint-by-numbers slasher or a shameless ripoff of any of the other home invasion thrillers you might have on the shelf -- but that doesn't translate to anything particularly compelling. Its characters aren't all that engaging. There's little tension and even fewer surprises, to the point where "thriller" isn't even the word I'd want to use to describe it. Even the sight of Tricia Helfer making out with another modelesque woman at a dinner party doesn't get much of a reaction. There's even an eyerollingly corny tag that leaves the door open for a sequel. It's frustrating because Open House benefits from some sharp ideas and a greatly welcomed interest in exploring something different, even though it does mine more than its share of clichés too. None of that translates into anything particularly gripping. Open House is slow and uninvolving, and those are two words that should never be stamped onto a psychological thriller. Rent It.


Video
The
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RED camera proves once again just how much of a powerhouse it can be in the right hands. The digital photography is exceptionally clean and clear, even under the sorts of extremely limited light where other cameras frequently struggle. No intrusive video noise ever once creeps into the frame, and clarity and detail both remain impressively robust throughout. Cinematographer Joseph White has more experience than most fielding lower-budget digital productions, having previously tackled such visually striking digital flicks as Repo! The Genetic Opera. White infuses Open House with a good bit of style as well. The palette is subdued without looking drained or hopelessly overcast the way many bleak thrillers do. There's something particularly intriguing about the way White toys with the contrast in shots that emphasize Brian Geraghty, with the strong contrast between the blinding whites and inky blacks reflecting the struggle between light and dark within. There's an impressive sense of depth to the scope photography as well. Open House isn't dragged down by any excessive filtering, edge enhancement, or digital artifacting. The only flaw I could spot is some distracting posterization throughout one dimly-lit interior sequence, but nothing else along those lines ever leapt out at me. Open House is a fantastic looking Blu-ray disc...better than the screenshots scattered around this review might suggest, so don't let those throw you off.

Open House fits comfortably on a single layer Blu-ray disc. The video has been letterboxed to an aspect ratio of 2.39:1 and has been encoded with AVC.


Audio
Open House features a 16-bit, six-channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, but it's not in quite the same league as the movie's impressive high-def presentation. I'd expect a thriller with such a claustrophobic backdrop to flesh out a strong sense of place...to heighten the intensity of its attacks. I didn't really ever notice the surround channels being used in that way, though, instead reserving them pretty much exclusively for reinforcing the music. Sometimes this can be effective -- bolstering the eeriness of a waking nightmare; the stabbing of the strings as David's psychosis builds; a creepy dance between David and Lila to a Joy Division knockoff -- but I do wish the multichannel mix were more ambitious with some of its diagetic sounds. The subwoofer is primarily used to back the score as well, but key effects still sound full-bodied, and it's not as if Open House is a movie littered with cracks of gunfire or megaton explosions anyway. The movie's dialogue is consistently rendered cleanly and clearly throughout, and the track isn't marred by any hiss or background noise. The technical presentation of the audio is as perfect as I could hope to hear, but the sound design is pretty meek, even for a thriller with a more subdued, psychological bent.

There aren't any dubs or downmixes this time around. Subtitles are limited to English (traditional and SDH) and Spanish.


Extras
Not much.
  • Audio Commentary: Writer/director
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    Andrew Paquin is joined by star Brian Geraghty for Open House's commentary track, and it's a decently fun, breezy listen. Paquin talks about shooting the movie in his own home -- and wow! it's a gorgeous house, Andrew, so congrats there -- and how working within those constraints wound up working to the movie's advantage. The freshman director also delves into how each of his actors prefer to approach their characters, how writing the script at the tail-end of a floundering relationship informed the dynamic between David and Lila, and how Open House breaks away from some of the traditional home invasion thriller clichés. What caught me off-guard the most is the revelation that David and Lila are supposed to be siblings, and I never got that impression from the movie itself at all. Was that mentioned outside of the commentary and I just wasn't paying close enough attention...? I didn't find myself jotting down as many highlights as I usually do, but there aren't any lulls in the conversation, and both Paquin and Geraghty are personable...seem happy to be there. Nothing earth-shatteringly essential but still a worthwhile listen.

  • Deleted Scenes (10 min.; HD): Three additional scenes have been piled on here too. The first two are meant to slowly heighten the tension of the early stretches of the movie -- Alice ringing up her ex to ask about the busted hot tub timer, and there's another bit with her skulking around the seemingly empty house after hearing a noise -- but were carved out for pacing and for being kind of repetitive. The last and longest of the scenes in this reel is "David Stuffs Alice in Trunk", and that title kind of says it all right there. The longer version is that this is a failed attempt by David to make a clean getaway in Lila's car. Paquin mentions an alternate ending in his audio commentary, but it's not anywhere to be found on this Blu-ray disc.

  • Trailer (2 min.; SD): Last up is a standard-def trailer. There are also plugs for a handful of other Lionsgate flicks if you feel like counting those here too.

The Final Word
Open House takes a stab at a more psychological approach to the home invasion thriller, more fascinated by digging into the minds of its characters than it is in carving out their intestines. I can appreciate that mindset, but the execution here falls short. None of the characters really connect -- one of the downsides of anchoring the movie around someone so quiet and detached, I guess -- and the hacking and slashing doesn't really get the blood pumping either. Open House isn't a bad movie by any stretch, but with so little suspense and a cast of characters that fail to engage, it's not much of a psychological thriller either. Rent It.
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