Netflix Originals can be hit-or-miss. Sometimes you strike lightning in a bottle and achieve a great success, like with Stranger Things or Orange Is The New Black. Other times it can be campy and simply offer a good time, like with The Babysitter. But this is neither of those cases. Netflix recently released The Open House, an intense thriller/horror flick directed and written by Matt Angel (Sweet/Vicious) and Suzanne Coote. When it comes to horror, all you really need is the perfect balance of genuine scares, a creepy setting, and a plot that makes sense with characters who feel relatable. This movie had (some of) the ingredients of a good horror film, but The Open House was a dull and tonally unbalanced film that felt incomplete right to its ending.
The Open House focuses on the story of a mother and son (played by Piercey Dalton and Dylan Minnette, respectively) trying to survive in their home after witnessing strange occurrences. For much of the film, it’s a character-driven plot that explores the mother-son relationship and how life forced them to move to a relative’s mountain mansion. We see them in mourning after the death of their husband/father, the realities of not having money, Logan’s (Minnette) dedication to running, and Naomi (Dalton) potentially dating again. The relationship shown between Logan and Naomi is one of the strongest points of The Open House with Minnette and Dalton creating a believable mother and son dynamic. While certainly one note at times, one of the films strengths lay with its determination is exploring every avenue of grief.
Whereas Minnette and Dalton found a good rhythm, the supporting cast needed a bit of work. This tiny group of quirky characters was filled with one red-herring after the next, each designed with a quality that we were meant to wonder if they could be causing the strange occurrence. However, it became clear they were just meant to fill time than actually be a potential suspect. In some cases it was easy to rule out someone based on simple logic and the quick glimpses of the “suspect.”
Layered in with the entire family storyline is a horror plot. Naomi and Logan don’t own the house they’re currently living in – it belongs to a relative who is letting them live there. The only caveat for this act of generosity is that they must leave the mountain home on Sundays while realtors hold an open house to sell the place. (Did you already make the horror plot connection?) Someone has snuck into their home during their first open house and didn’t leave. This mysterious individual hangs around to torment them, steal things, and eventually turn the situation into a deadly affair. Over the course of several days, we watch as the Wallace family increasingly become paranoid as a stranger hides in their midst, biding their time before he strikes.
The Open House suffers from its tone, never deciding just what it was trying to accomplish. In some instances, the shots and editing choices presented the film as a supernatural thriller or a “stranger in the house” feel, which I think the latter was the intent. Could something be wrong with the house? Is there a man hiding away? Is it haunted? These were all valid questions when overhead environment shots and slowly opening doors introduced new layers of tension.
In contrast to this, we also had the psychological angle where Logan was suffering mental breakdowns due to the accident. He would occasionally have intense dreams, his body wasn’t up to full strength, and he couldn’t remember what happened during the night his father died, leading the viewer to unexpected conclusions. And in addition to these two, The Open House also wanted to be a mini slasher. Too many themes were up in the air just to discuss a mystery that already felt like a stretch.
The Open House spent 94 minutes building up toward an unsatisfying conclusion that was anti-climactic and confusing, offering little payoff. The screen faded to black (with a cliffhanger tease) and it left too many unanswered questions open that would’ve significantly helped make the plot more understandable. Was there a reason for this torment? Why did the killer do specific moves to torment the Wallace family? Some horror movies, like 2008’s The Strangers, utilized this trope to push the home invasion plot and the execution is successful. The difference between The Strangers and The Open House is the former built the entire story around this experience while the latter toyed with the idea and settled on it to explain a lack of plot.
On a cinematic level, it featured many beautiful editing choices, such as with its full angle setting shots and playing with light (i.e. lighting the matches in the dark basement). However, its lack of plot and interesting conclusion ruined any momentum that was built up by the characters beforehand. The Open House proves that you can’t just take any concept, holiday or scenario and turn it into a horror movie. You need to lay the foundation first (and know what story you want to tell) before you explore the dark side of it.