Partway through The Open House, our lead character, Logan (played by 13 Reasons Why’s Dylan Minnette) turns to his mother and asks contemplatively: “Mom, have you ever thought of how weird open houses are?”
Most people probably have not. But The Open House writer and director Matt Angel most certainly has. My family moved around quite a bit when I was as kid. From ages four to 11 we bounced around among five different cities in New Jersey, New York, and Ohio. When you move a lot in a relatively short amount of time, you get used to some of the cultural trappings that come along with relocations.
There are peppy real estate agents named Joanne whose age can be clocked somewhere between 27 and 54. There are first nights in new cities spent in sleeping bags waiting for the furniture to arrive. And there are open houses. Events in which strangers come into your home and just kind of look around, envisioning what their lives could look like there while you’re already there, living your own life concurrently with their imagination.
It is indeed weird, and I suppose a little uncomfortable. People are unpredictable beasts and any new person you invite into your home could decide not to leave. But holy shit, Matt Angel, it’s not that weird.
The Open House invests a shocking amount of its success in the concept that the open house can become as iconic and terrifying an idea as the shark-infested beach on Amity Island or the shower at the Bates Motel. Alas, it cannot.
Minnette stars as Logan Wallace, a high school student training to become a track athlete, and for whatever else, the film certainly keeps his cardio up throughout. He lives a happy, unassuming life in California with his mom, Naomi (Piercey DAlton) and his father, Brian (Aaron Abrams). You can tell that they are a happy family because they have breakfast for dinner. You can tell that they’re a poor family too, because Brian pours over bills with big red text “PAST DUE” stamped on them.
One night, while preparing for the aforementioned breakfast for dinner, Brian is tragically killed when a car suddenly speeds into him, even though he’s the only object in a brightly-lit parking lot. That’s why the movie throws Naomi’s friend (or sister perhaps? The relationship is never specified) Allison into the mix after the funeral. Allison (Katie Walder) owns a really nice house in the Pacific Northwest, and Naomi and Logan can crash there for a bit. The only catch is that Logan and Naomi will have to leave for six hours every Sunday while the realtors hold an open house to try to sell the property.
Logan and Naomi head North and are immediately confronted by all manner of weird neighbors and townspeople, and an enormous, creepy house where the pilot light always goes out.
The first two-thirds of The Open House is bad in a way that many horror movies are bad. It’s repetitive, unimaginative, and can never calibrate the proper level of tension–when to release it and when to build it. The acting is fine. Minnette and Dalton create a believable mother and son team, but they cannot overcome lines like, “I just can’t believe it. He’s dead.” Nor can they rescue a tepid pace that features not one, not two, but three nearly identical scenes of characters re-lighting a pilot light in the basement while ominous music drones.
At the same time though: horror is notoriously hard. Different things scare different people. So the first part of The Open House is bad in a kind of charming, inoffensive way. The final third of the movie, however, is not inoffensively bad. It’s bad in an almost supernatural way. It’s a level of bad that no human being should be able to achieve. The kind bad that only robots operating under sophisticated algorithms designed to create awful things should be able to pull off.
The final third of The Open House bears no logical or tonal resemblance whatsoever to the first hour. Angel elects to double down on his initial open house premise rather than continuing to explore the mother-son relationship and interactions with intriguing townspeople that the first part had begun to establish.
It’s easy to imagine Angel coming up with the open house horror movie concept he liked, throwing together a mother-son plot around it–realizing that he accidentally made it marginally more interesting than the initial concept and just throwing it away at the very end.
And that’s a shame. While The Open House was probably never destined to be a good film due to the inherent limitations of its premise, for awhile you can see the value it brings to the table. Minnette and Dalton really do turn in decent performances, with Minnette’s terrified shivering being the only highlight of the final act. Angel also proves himself to be a competent director. He’s clearly internalized the cinematic lessons of the recent horror movie past. He smartly relies on the stunning mountain landscapes to set the mood and also realizes that any visual artist’s best friend is the setting sun at dusk.
Beyond some minor technical accomplishments, however, The Open House is truly awful. And those minor technical accomplishments are mostly dashed away by the fact that the movie is in widescreen for some reason. I respect that straight-to-streaming may not have been the production’s first choice but watching something attempt to be overtly cinematic on a streaming platform is a jarring experience.
Between Bright and now this, Netflix seems to be going through some growing pains jumpstarting their film division similar to what they experienced when they started producing original series. Never forget that two out of the first three Netflix original series were Lilyhammer and Hemlock Grove.
Better luck next time. And while you’re at it, bring on the next housing crisis so no one will have to think about how weird open houses are again.