I hear a whole lot of people walked out of the press screening for Open House, which I find very surprising. Maybe it's just that I am not a regular viewer of -- nor a fan of, really -- the home invasion subgenre, but compared to what I have seen (including the original Funny Games, The Strangers and I guess Panic Room counts?), it wasn't that much worse. In fact, there's plenty that I enjoyed in Open House, including the creepy performance by Brian Geraghty (The Hurt Locker), the refreshingly minimal amount of torture/abuse and the slow, suspenseful pacing of the familiar yet nonetheless mysterious plot.
Written and directed by Andrew Paquin (brother of Anna, who appears briefly, as does her True Blood co-star and fiancee, Stephen Moyer), the thriller takes us exclusively into the setting of an on-the-market L.A. home -- including the hot tub in the backyard -- which has been hijacked by a couple of killers (Geraghty and Tricia Helfer). David arrives first, slashing a house guest before abducting the home owner, Alice (Rachel Blanchard), and hiding her away in a basement crawl space. Soon, his female accomplice, Lila, joins him in taking over the residence and murdering any friends, house cleaners or whomever else decides to or is invited to drop by.
During the day, Lila goes off to someplace (work? the mall?) as David writes from home. He brings Alice out of her prison and allows her to sit in the room while he works, and he tells her that if Lila finds out she's not dead, she will be. Why has David kept her alive? That's one of the film's many mysteries, some of which are disappointingly never explained. There are also a few too many unanswered questions in the form of plot holes, but isn't that to be expected with horror thrillers these days? In his directorial debut, Paquin is certainly not the second-coming of Hitchcock, whose films were the biggest inspiration for Open House (he also cited American Beauty as an influence at the premiere's post-screening Q&A).
The film mostly functions as a centerpiece for the talents of Geraghty and Helfer, though the latter gives a carbon copy of her performance as Six on Battlestar Galactica (at least in the first season, which is all I've seen). She's domineering and manipulative, basically unlikeable in every way save for her beauty, which she uses for a few just-before-the-kill seductions. David, on the other hand, is your typical shy, quiet, could-be-sympathized-with serial killer who Alice attempts to turn good -- or at least good enough to turn on his partner. And Geraghty plays him terrifically as a mix of Norman Bates and Crispin Glover, with a little bit of Rolf from The Sound of Music for that Aryan boy look.
I'm also a fan of the equally crisp and clean look of the film, as shot by cinematographer Joseph White using the Red One camera. Even when splattered or soaked with blood, the picture seems as immaculate as the seemingly not-lived-in home with its sparse and tidy decor. Meanwhile, light penetrates and drenches the film more than any of the violence, yet only so much as to leave plenty of dark shadows on Geraghty's face to match his obscured motives and psychology.
Given the location and the theme of relationship tension, not to mention the horror elements, Open House reminded me a little too much of Paranormal Activity. Though I did enjoy that film in some ways and I enjoyed this one in other ways, the two share a sense of easiness in the way that they were made that worries me. Facility would seem to be an expectation of single-setting thrillers -- just get an available house (Paquin used his own home for the shoot), a couple decent actors and employ the usual fright tactics -- even if we've seen bigger and better examples in the past (Poltergeist; The Shining). And while Paranormal struck the right spot with audiences and was aided by a great and novel marketing campaign, the primary reason Open House seems to be getting any exposure is due to the filmmaker's fortune to cast his popular sister in a cameo.
Personally, I can't stand Anna Paquin, and having the young Oscar-winner in your film is the last thing to draw me in. But killing her off in the first few minutes, as Open House does a la Drew Barrymore in Scream, that put a big smile on my face that perhaps made me better able to appreciate the rest of the film than my peers. I do really wonder, though, what those walk-out critics expected with this and whether they realize how much worse it could have been. Not that I'm ever a supporter of the lowered-standard defense of today's movies, but you know there will be lower-budget, lower-quality thrillers in the future with the very same concept that will make Open House look like it was made by Hitchcock or Kubrick in comparison.