The Open House (2018)

Warning: Spoilers ahead!

A Netflix Original thriller set in a big, spooky house deep in the mountains seemed like the perfect first 2018 film for me to watch. I made a cup of hot chocolate with whole milk just for the occasion. For the majority of The Open House, I was on the edge of my seat. My anxiety levels were at an all-time high as I waited for the killer to be revealed so I could get some closure. Unfortunately, that never happened. Not only was the killer’s face never shown, but the two individuals being hunted by the killer both die in the end. I’ve never been more disappointed in the ending of a film in my entire life. Concluding a film with unanswered questions is quite common and even enjoyable if done properly, but The Open House doesn’t leave many clues for viewers to come up with their own version of who the killer was or why was he/she so set on killing our main characters. It’s a damn shame because everything leading up to the ending was actually entertaining.

The Open House gets its cheesy title from its setting: a mansion in the mountains that is on the market. After the sudden death of her husband, Naomi (Piercey Dalton) and her son Logan (Dylan Minnette) are forced to move into her sister’s mountain mansion until it sells due to financial reasons. From the moment they settle in, strange things start to occur. The pilot light turns off while Naomi takes showers, Logan’s phone goes missing, the basement door randomly opens, etc. Their creepy neighbor, Martha, makes an appearance a handful of times, and each one is more peculiar than the next. There’s even a scene where Dylan is in the pitch black basement and Martha’s face appears behind him. For a good while, it seems as though Martha is responsible for the mysterious happenings, but then Chris (Sharif Atkins), the friendly salesman Naomi meets in town, randomly shows up at the house. He claims that he noticed the open house sign in the front of the road, and he is interested in taking a look inside. Naomi lets him in, and while she isn’t looking, he disappears into the basement with a unsettling look on his face. At this point, he becomes a suspicious character as well.

The film’s pace picks up quickly when Naomi is out on the town and receives a call from her sister informing her that someone broke into the house. Once the police arrive, they aren’t much help and basically blame the break in on local kids pranking around. Chris is then invited to spend the night to provide some comfort to Naomi and Logan since there scared shitless. Because Chris had this artificial kindness to him, I really thought that he was going to reveal himself as the person responsible for all the strange activity, but Logan ends up finding him with a slit throat in their family SUV. Was Chris’s character purposely supposed to seem suspicious or was Sharif Atkins a crappy actor? We may never know.  Logan then gets his head bashed into the window and is doused with water while passed out in freezing temperatures by what appears to be a man. With Chris scratched off my suspect list and the killer not matching Martha’s physique, I assume that this person may be Martha’s son or husband.

The unknown killer then gets into bed with Naomi with his hands in prayer position across his chest. This was probably the most bone chilling part in the film for me. Naomi gets up to use the bathroom and gets back into bed with him! I’m assuming this is a California king size bed for her to not even flinch before getting in. As soon as she realizes the creep in the bed, he captures her, ties her up, and breaks her fingers one by one. Frozen Logan makes it back into the house, and accidentally stabs his mother, which then led me to believe that he was going to get Final Boy status because one of them would need to survive in the end, right? Nope. Just when I thought Logan escaped, he meets his death by the still unknown killer, and the movie comes to an abrupt end.

The ending just felt so lazy. There were so many cool elements in this film that could’ve been used to create a jaw-dropping conclusion, but all the buildup in the film’s last 20 minutes led to nothing but disappointment. I feel like I’ve been ripped off, even though the film is available on Netflix. Watch The Open House only if you enjoy frustration and disappointment.

-Britnee Lombas

Don’t Breathe (2016)

EPSON MFP image

fourstar

Don’t Breathe is quite the experience. It’s being touted as a return to form for the horror genre, and while it’s certainly memorable, tense, and well-acted, there’s a fine line between well-earned praise and overhype, and the promotion of this film may have already crossed that event horizon.

The film follows Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette), and Money (Daniel Zovatto, of the strangely similar It Follows, but more on that in a moment), three Detroit teenagers whose varying levels of desperation to get out of their dying city lead them to theft. Using Alex’s father’s private security company connections to get in and out of homes without setting off any alarms, the trio land on the idea of robbing the home of a blind military veteran (Stephen Lang) who was given a large civil settlement when the daughter of a rich family was found not guilty of vehicular manslaughter of his only child. Once they make their way inside, they find that the Blind Man is more than they bargained for, and is hiding secrets that they could not have imagined.

I went into the film mostly blind, for lack of a better term. I knew very little about the plot from the outset other than that the film was supposed to be the best horror flick of the year, and I was expecting something along the lines of an inverted Wait Until Dark. I was also excited in the very first scene, as it reminded me of Hans Weingartner’s 2004 flick The Edukators, of which I am a big fan. The film quickly shifted tone, however, and although there are elements of Wait Until Dark at play here (most notably in a scene in which a blind individual turns off all of the lights to put themselves on equal footing with the people invading their home), this is a very different film.

We recently discussed in the roundtable for our September MotM outing The Box that it was hard to sympathize with the protagonist family and their need for more income because of their relative place of privilege, and Don’t Breathe is certainly more identifiable on that front, but the characters never quite reach a point where we can fully sympathize with them. The only main character of color, Money (Zovatto is Costa Rican), is the least fleshed out and has the least characterization; his character is the least likable of the three mains, and Zovatto seems to be playing an exaggerated version of the same sleazeball he played in It Follows. Further, Don’t Breathe seems to take place in the same alternate universe Detroit as It Follows, by which I mean both films are nearly devoid of black people. It’s understandable that director Fede Alvarez chose not to cast actors of color for these roles; having black actors play Detroit thieves would have unfortunate implications of their own, but since I only counted two extras of color (one in the overhead flyby at the start of the film and one getting coffee at the station at the end), there’s a lot of missed opportunity here. The film effectively portrays Detroit as a dying city with homes full of broken windows and empty streets, but focusing on the economic problems of (mostly) white teenagers creates an incorrect perception both of the city’s real problems and of the people who are usually victims of economic inequality.

The scene we see of Rocky’s family (including the deadbeat mother’s unsubtly swastika-tattooed boyfriend) attempts to communicate in a very short time frame the reasons why Rocky so dearly desires to leave Detroit behind, but it’s a little clumsy in its overtones and fails in comparison to a later scene where Alex talks about her childhood in a much more effective demonstration. And we learn the least about Alex, except that he seems to have a fairly decent home life, and his investment in the thefts is largely because of his romantic interest in Rocky, which the film never states is either problematic or loving. It’s also not the only problematic thing in the film other than the whitewashed Detroit, as there is a scene near the end that uses the ol’ rape-as- drama cliche, although not in the way you would expect. It’s effectively unsettling, but I’m not sure if the “I’m no rapist” line is meant to show off the blind (sorry) self-deception of the character saying it or an attempt to head off any attempted interpretation of the line (which it obviously has not, based on some of the think pieces emerging in the wake of the film’s release). I’m hesitant to say more than that for the sake of retaining the film’s surprises. It’s enough to sour the experience somewhat but not enough for me to say the film should be skipped, although I definitely recommend a big trigger warning for those viewers sensitive to sexual assault.

Even with all of its flaws, Don’t Breathe is a delightfully wicked and taut horror thriller with great influences from other films in the same genre and outside of it. Beyond the “blind person fends off home invaders” similarities to Wait Until Dark and the superficial similarities to The Edukators, there’s a lot of The People Under the Stairs in Don’t Breathe’s DNA (minus that film’s exploration of the race-related nature of economic disadvantage, which, as noted, is lacking here). There are also minor elements that are reminiscent of this year’s earlier horror film 10 Cloverfield Lane, particularly in one of the fake-out endings and the scene of a woman climbing through an air vent in a desperate escape attempt (this scene is also evocative of my favorite horror film, Alien, from which 10 Cloverfield borrowed some of its imagery). Alvarez’s beautiful cinematography and lingering camera work elevate what could otherwise have been a fairly run-of- the-mill horror movie. There’s an attention to detail that bespeaks a greater knowledge of the language of film, and Alvarez is obviously well on his way to being a master linguist. I can’t remember the last time, other than The VVitch, where I felt so much tension in my spine  while taking in a fright flick, and I was haunted by the movie for hours after walking out of the theatre. If you have a strong stomach and can handle the anxiety, Don’t Breathe gets a“recommended” from me.

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond