It's no secret that some people visit open houses simply because they're nosy and because they want to see what life might be like for an entirely different person by curiously taking in everything from the books on the dresser to the photos on the walls that occupy another individual's most private sanctuaries including the bedroom or the bathroom.
And while some just simply want to take inventory of the neighbor's place in a sort of keeping up with the Joneses mentality, others may actually fantasize about living not just in the house but life as though they were the people whose belongings they've perused.
For most, playing “what if” usually stops at hypothetical scenarios worked out their heads or with a friend but in writer/director Andrew Paquin's feature filmmaking debut Open House, we're introduced to two psychopaths who take their passion for playing pretend to murderous levels when they actually move right into the house for sale by simply walking in, refusing to leave and taking over the seller's life by taking their life.
As the movie opens, a real estate agent lets his imaginative intuition run wild, trying to turn a beautiful sun-drenched suburban property into the dream home for whatever couple happens to be touring it by playing up a possible baby's room for one pair or boasting that the garden almost takes care of itself to another.
Yet just off in the distance, we witness the blurred yet distinctive blonde figure of actor Brian Geraghty's character David ease into the house unnoticed, slipping into the basement where he hides in wait, long after the realtor leaves and before the soon-to-be-divorced Alice (Rachel Blanchard) returns home to host a dinner party for her friends including Jennie (director Andrew's Oscar winning sister Anna Paquin).
After being lured into the basement where she finds her friend's lifeless body in the middle of the night, Alice is quickly drugged, gagged and shoved into a small crawlspace like cubbyhole in the downstairs of her home, helplessly listening to the arrival of David's partner in home invasion and commandeering crime Lila (Tricia Helfer).
Even more ruthlessly diabolical than David, enjoying mercilessly teasing and prodding the man she'd left once because he tried to get her to change her ways, Lila soon takes great pleasure in dispatching Alice's husband (True Blood star Stephen Moyer) along with anyone else who happens to stop by.
Unbeknown to the thrill kill vixen who disappears during the day either for work (though we just can't picture that) or endless shopping (which again raises more logical questions about money), David begins forming an unlikely bond with Alice by sneaking her out during the day to watch television with him and keep him company when Lila assumes he's busy writing.
Yet while he initially seems hip to the fact that Alice may be manipulating him out of sympathy, soon we discover that David has managed to fool even himself by becoming more reliant on the company of his captive, who is constantly trying to find a way out of her basement prison.
And although Paquin's twisted set-up is intriguing for its deviation from the traditional home invasion thriller subgenre, unfortunately he doesn't do much with his incredibly creepy premise as the characters all predictably act according to standard horror cliches and just to keep viewers from nodding off, Paquin inserts a gory jolt here and there as inevitably more bodies begin piling up in coolers in the garage.
Without giving us any background on any of the characters, save for a rather brilliantly unexpected revelation about David and Lila's true relationship late into the film, we don't feel genuinely invested or even all that interested in the way the events unfold, aside from the basic level of wanting the girl to escape the killers' grasp before the credits roll.
And although it's set up to make the most of it, the film misses some vital opportunities to explore macabre humor on suburban domesticity given Lila's enjoyment of blending in to the point that she wants to throw a dinner party (again illogically letting some witnesses walk away and others hit the floor in a bloody showdown).
Likewise, it never manages to thrill us with pulse-pounding subjective camera style intensity to try to make us step into Alice's shoes in her plight to escape a la Panic Room or even P2, unfortunately Open House just disappointingly deviates from its original premise and goes into autopilot mode.
Irregardless of the ultimate decline in the plotting, Paquin's film does benefit from some painterly Edward Hopper inspired art direction of isolated indoors amidst a picture perfect model home setting that seems even crisper on Blu-ray as well as a genuinely chilling, understated turn by Geraghty in a role that no doubt some actors would've overplayed as is the norm for dysfunctional villains.
However, even with some of these strengths, in the end you realize that Paquin's boringly bizarre Open House tour could've done with a little more creative intuition a la its realtor character in trying to turn us from curious, casual viewers into committed and caught up right until this particular sale closed.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.
Labels: Blu-ray Review