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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.