As Dylan Minnette’s character, Logan, points out in The Open House, the concept of “open houses” is a strange one. Logan notes that countless strangers wander around your home while you’re not there, the realtors too busy putting on a good face to monitor what each guest is doing, or, more horrifyingly, if each guest leaves once the showing is over for the day. This is exactly the terrifying situation which befalls Logan and his mother, Naomi (Piercey Dalton), in the Netflix Original co-written and co-directed by Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote.
After a tragic accident claims the life of Logan’s father, our two central characters are all but forced out of their home. Financially strapped, Logan and Naomi are free to live in Naomi’s sister’s luxurious mountainside mansion until they get back on their feet. The only catch is that this home is on the market and there is an open house each Sunday. After the first showing, strange occurrences begin to take place. Things are being moved after Logan places them down; the pilot light in the basement keeps turning itself off even after Naomi fixes it. Is one of the bizarre neighbors messing with them, or has a stranger gotten in and not left? Ultimately, no matter who or what is responsible, the real question is: What is their intent?
The Open House gets off to an okay start, setting the tone for what we hope will be a taut and unsettling whodunnit. We are at least mildly intrigued by the strange, elderly neighbor who all but researched Logan and Naomi before they showed up. Likewise, we are interested in the mysterious, dark basement of their temporary new home which holds a tiny hallway creepily overflowing with various types of old, used wooden planks.
Unfortunately, the film quickly squashes any interest we may have felt in the beginning and replaces the feeling with total frustration. Besides the fact that the film is riddled with cliches, there is a maddening communication issue between Logan and his mother. Granted, they both just lost a beloved part of their family and are upheaving their lives during a grieving period, but there are a lot of questionable choices made by the characters that simply can’t be justified. It’s difficult to suspend your disbelief for the duration of this film because the central characters are behaving in ways that just about no one would in real life.
One such instance is a prolonged scene which begins with a needlessly loud telephone ringing. Naomi answers but tells Logan no one is on the line, she just hears their own voices echoing back. Already, we want to scream at the television because anyone who has ever used a phone knows that you hear an echo of yourself when someone in close proximity places a call to you.
The two of them ignore this bit of common knowledge and Naomi goes to take a shower. Logan goes up to his room, places his cereal bowl on his bedside table, and begins to hunt for his cell phone, which he had previously plugged in and left on his dresser. He frantically searches the rest of the house, only stopping when he sees that his cereal bowl has somehow appeared on the coffee table downstairs, in the living room.
Suddenly, he hears strange sounds in the basement. He gets down and places his ear to the ground and is physically jolted when something bangs against the floor directly below him, shaking the entire surface. Before he can process what just happened, Logan hears Naomi scream and runs to her aid. She says that the water has gone ice cold and she needs to check the tank, to which Logan replies he “just heard something banging around down there.” She chalks it up to old pipes (the house looks 20 years old at most), grabs a flashlight, and goes to investigate with no further protest, explanation, or help from her son.
Naomi sees that the pilot light has been physically turned off (she doesn’t question this) and must re-light it. She fumbles with the flashlight for a moment as she tries to light a match. For some reason, she then decides to completely turn the flashlight off and operate in total darkness rather than placing the light down on its side. After a few tries, she gets the pilot light to work just as the basement door slams shut behind her. Naomi runs upstairs and yells at Logan- who is lounging around in his room, having seemingly forgotten all the events which just took place- and accuses him of playing tricks on her. Logan says he has no idea what she’s talking about, despite at least having an inkling because he just experienced similar unexplained events mere moments earlier. Naomi concludes maybe the door is broken, although logic would suggest that a broken door would not slam closed at all, let alone on its own.
It’s scenes like these, of which there are many, that make The Open House so terribly troubling. Viewers will constantly fight the urge to rip their own hair out in exasperation each time a character makes a ridiculous choice just to benefit the storyline or for the aesthetic appeal. Many of the events in the film could have all-too-easily been avoided had Logan chosen to voice his concerns about his many strange experiences in the house BEFORE his mother begins to suspect him of being behind the phenomena. Logan has several chances to tell his mother that something feels off, but he instead keeps the information to himself. This is a nonsensical choice for a teenage boy who doesn’t want to move away from his family home before high school graduation. If presented early on, the information could have built a case for going back to their old home and trying to make ends meet.
In fact, Logan never tells his mom about the cereal bowl or any of the other things he finds moved around. He never tells her that the “banging” he heard was actually a thunderous boom. As far as Naomi knows, the real causes for concern don’t begin until damn near the end of the film. This movie takes the easy way out, making excuses to keep both Logan and Naomi in the house and in danger by allowing them both to shrug off all of the creepy happenings.
Further, the acting is clumsy throughout. Minnette has a few scenes in which he argues with and curses at his mother, and he sounds like he has to force himself to say “fuck”. Relatedly, Dalton seems to be going for quiet, reserved sadness, but she comes off as stiff and totally uncaring towards her son. Additionally, the oddball neighbor, Martha (Patricia Bethune), is almost a caricature of someone who, later on, is revealed to have Alzheimer’s (to make it worse, her disease is used for scares).
Last, and probably most annoying, is how most of the plot points, scares, and characters are completely unnecessary. For instance, the aforementioned small hallway in the basement stuffed with piles of decrepit wooden planks? It has no bearing on the story at all and is never mentioned or seen again. The hallway exists solely for the imagery it provides when Logan discovers it with his flashlight and stares in horror. Later, neighbor Martha is found creeping around the house in the middle of the night and screams at Logan when he tries to help her for no other reason than to give the audience a fright. With all the potential a home invasion concept provides, it doesn’t seem likely that the writers couldn’t have come up with better scares and images that actually made sense within the story if they had wanted – or thought – to do so.
As for the characters, most are red herrings who serve no other purpose in the film and have no redeeming qualities. Even Logan’s father is an unnecessary character and his death an unneeded plot point. Naomi could have easily been a single mother who falls on hard times. Instead, the choice is made to have Logan’s father (who we only see in one brief scene prior to his death) killed to force the audience to care about his survivors, who we follow throughout the rest of the story. It seems a cheap way to forge a connection with the characters to avoid going back, fleshing out the story, and building a more cohesive narrative.
The Open House is full of senselessness and is lacking in just about every facet besides high production value. The picture looks fine, but the story is irritatingly awful. To make matters worse, the film is anticlimactic and doesn’t tie together any of its loose ends. Ultimately, viewers will be left with their faces in their palms, pointing out ridiculous elements one after another.
There is a kernel of a decent, if unoriginal, idea here. However, the execution is subpar, there is hardly any build-up of tension, and there is never a decent payoff. The lack of all three leads to a wasted hour and a half of our time. Horror fans deserve and demand better.
The Opening House is now streaming on Netflix.