Director: Matt Angel, Suzanne Coote
Writer: Matt Angel, Suzanne Coote
Producer: Matt Angel, Suzanne Coote, Dan Angel
Stars: Dylan Minnette, Piercey Dalton, Patricia Bethune, Sharif Atkins, Aaron Abrams, Edward Olson, Katie Walder, Paul Rae, Leigh Parker, Matt Angel, Kathryn Beckwith
A grieving mother and son move into a remote mountain home where they are seemingly stalked by a stranger in the shadows.
Naomi is fast running out of threads she can tie together to make ends meet. Deep in debt and reeling from her husband Brian’s death, Naomi takes a favor from her sister with a mountain home on the market. Naomi and her teenage son Logan can stay in the remote house to get back on their feet. The only catch is Naomi and Logan must make themselves scarce whenever the real estate agent hosts an open house.
This seems a fair enough caveat until mother and son make their way up the mountain and meet the area’s kooky characters. There’s Martha, the weirdly intrusive neighbor whose senior moments add to her strangeness. There’s Chris, a curiously friendly store clerk with a flirty eye pointed in Naomi’s direction. Then there’s the mysterious man who vanishes in the middle of the road, the first in a series of odd encounters setting Naomi and Logan on edge.
Logan idly muses how odd open houses are. Flinging open the front door and allowing anyone to wander around unchecked. What do they do? What do they touch? Do all of them actually leave?
That last question comes to mind more often as doors creak in the night, items inexplicably change positions, and silence responds on the other end of a ringing phone. Something or someone seems to be stalking Naomi and Logan. Could it be Brian’s ghost? One of the loony locals? Or someone posing as a prospective buyer who has already made the house his own?
Odds are you won’t care who or what is responsible by the time “The Open House” concludes. I didn’t. As the camera tilted up to potentially glimpse the creeping culprit’s identity near the end, I paused the movie in favor of putting my lunch in the oven. I cared so little about the premise’s payoff that I couldn’t be bothered to watch the final five minutes first.
“The Open House” puts viewers in this disinterested state by being as Plain Jane as a purported “thriller” can get. Logan’s cellphone suddenly goes missing. A cereal bowl is mysteriously moved. Then there are persistent problems with the house’s plumbing. Only so much suspense can be sucked from a pilot light repeatedly going out on a hot water tank, and tame tension like that sure as Shinola can’t sustain a 90-minute movie.
Stakes stay so low, audio shoulders the lion’s share burden of adding energy to the screen, even when limp actions don’t match the score’s smolder. It’s sadly comical how ominous music builds to an orgasmic crescendo when Naomi pulls a crumpled family photo from a wastebasket as though she is Rosemary peeking into the black bassinet for the first time.
“The Open House” isn’t without initial intrigue. Family drama between Naomi and Logan pulls from Hallmark Channel boilerplates, but Dylan Minnette and Piercey Dalton, the latter of whom calls to mind Catherine Keener meeting a frazzled Lucy Lawless, have the chops to forge an endearing dynamic between two sympathetic people. The script simply does them no favors by developing only minor material required to propel pedestrian plot points.
Logan runs track. This serves to substantiate his stamina later down the line. Naomi is a photographer. This conveniently explains why she develops a roll of film showing pictures snapped by a stalker. Nearly nothing happens to give a sense that this world or these people live and breathe outside the confines of these 1.5 hours.
Several scenes have confounding purposes or placement. Naomi is twice shown showering nude, with one shot juxtaposing her against her son speaking from the other side of an open door. So the left side of frame depicts Logan asking about his phone while the right side reveals his mother’s bare butt in a nonchalant manner. It’s simply an odd compositional choice with an unintentionally uncomfortable undertone.
Pity points are awarded for prominently featuring the terrific band Shannon and the Clams on the soundtrack. The problem is, I have no idea what repeating their song “Dreams in the Rat House” as a leitmotif means to suggest as a story point. Neither do I understand the conspicuous close-ups on 2% milk jugs during two separate convenience store trips. I don’t think the movie knows why it does much of anything either.
If Dylan Minnette’s star wasn’t rising so high, particularly after “Goosebumps” (review here) and “Don’t Breathe” (review here), I don’t believe this movie would have made it to a mainstream channel. “The Open House” features the kind of flippantly flimsy story and uninspired execution normally reserved for disposable DTV indies bigger distributors don’t want.
Co-directors Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote co-wrote as well as co-produced their film and also appear in speaking roles. This stinks of a vanity project with enough financing to back a name behind bare minimum ambition for pumping out a meagerly mediocre movie. Submitted as evidence: a cast of supporting players so meaningless, many of them are named according to profession, e.g. Plumber, Waitress, Cop #1, and Cop #2.
I’m genuinely surprised this landed a Netflix deal, as it may be the dullest, most pointlessly unentertaining movie I’ve streamed on their service. Something such as “Bright” (review here) may have issues too. But at least a disappointment like that still has several stars and slick-looking production value. “The Open House” has nearly nothing of note, leaving just a throwaway thriller not at all worthy of bearing the Netflix name.
Review Score: 35