RUNNING TIME: 87 Minutes
- Commentary with actor Brian Geraghty and director Andrew Paquin
- Deleted Scenes
- Trailer Gallery
- Widescreen Presentation
- English 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio
- Optional English and Spanish Subtitles
David Cronenberg’s Pacific Heights
Director: Andrew Paquin
Writer: Andrew Paquin
Cast: Brian Geraghty, Rachel Blanchard, Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, and Tricia Helfer
“Just look at the detail on Joe Pilato’s sweaty forehead as he gets torn apart in 1080p and tell me Blu-ray isn’t a massive leap forward. Go on, I dare ya!”
A young woman (Blanchard) and her ex (Moyer) are trying to sell their home and neither of them are completely happy about it. To make matters worse, two prospective buyers decide to commandeer their house and terrorize everyone who sets foot in it. What follows will make breaking up seem like a long weekend at Rancho Relaxo.
Paranoia. Jealousy. Deviant sexuality. Familial dysfunction. But enough about me, what about Open House?
Wait, come back… I AM talking about Open House!
The directorial debut from Andrew Paquin (brother of Anna), Open House sells itself as a pseudo remake of Pacific Heights, the memorable 1990 Michael Keaton thriller which did for room-mates what Jaws did for water. Indeed, the basis of that movie – homeowner gets terrorized by unwanted resident – is present and correct. However, we’re treated to an altogether more cerebral affair than its generic horror presentation suggests. This isn’t slasher trash with lots of creeping around in the dark and people going upstairs when they should be running out the nearest door. Initially, it feels a little off when things start going Cronenbergian for Rachel “Peep Show” Blanchard and the Housewife’s vampire of choice, Stephen Moyer of “True Blood” fame. But stick with the film beyond the first act and there are rewards in store.
“I’ve heard of a Vulcan death grip, but a Cylon death grip? Gimme a bre-ARRRGGGHHH!!!”
Blanchard and Moyer’s troubled lovers Alice and Josh are a sympathetic couple. They don’t have melodramatic arguments about “closure” and their closets are skeleton-free. In fact, both parties feel the onset of cold feet, financial concerns casting doubt over their split. They’re the couple next door, a concept neatly exploited in the ensuing trauma. David (Jarhead‘s Brian Geraghty) and Lila (Battlestar Galactica‘s Tricia Helfer) gain access to Alice and Josh’s home, the titular viewing house, and proceed to sate their sociopathic desires. As the film unfolds, David’s burgeoning infatuation with Alice – whom he’s secretly stashed in a hidden basement room - becomes a major focus. Rather than feel manipulated to strike fear into the hearts of suburban audiences, the ubiquity of the film’s setting feels closer in spirit to Halloween (1978.) Like John Carpenter, Andrew Paquin understands the power of suggestion is a valuable weapon, especially in horror. As in Halloween, shots of empty rooms are just as chilling as chases or physical confrontations. Oftentimes, more so.
Helfer and Geraghty are the conduits through which the film explores its meatiest ideas. From the minute they appear on screen, everyday life becomes infinitely more sinister. Helfer relishes the role of Lila, the more overt of the two “villain” characters. A deceitful tramp, Lila schemes her way through men like she’s being paid by the corpse (what they call a “pay as you slay” ratio.) It’s an essential contrast to her partner, the taciturn David. Brian Geraghty takes a little longer to settle into this role than the others do theirs, but he comes good in the second act as the put-upon Alice draws David out of his shell and attempts to change his submissive ways. Lila keeps David on a short-leash, an Achilles Heel the captive Alice quickly identifies. Paquin deftly handles Alice’s attempts to get under David’s skin. Of course, she wants to escape, but it’s also a credit to Blanchard how much we want to see her succeed and save David from his twisted accomplice and lifestyle. This warped “love-triangle” drives the film, generating genuinely suspenseful moments as David secretly plays house with Alice and struggles with his commitment to Lila.
“There were two bars of soap and three full toilet roll holders when you went in and I expect there to be two bars of soap and three full toilet roll holders when you come out.”
Open House betrays its obscure status thanks to some slick set-pieces and photography from Joseph White. There’s also enough gore to satisfy more traditional horrorfiles; certain moments during the film’s final showdown feature genuinely wince-worthy effects. Unless you’re a member of the International Society for the Appreciation of Throat Slitting (ISATS) that is, in which case you’ll be too busy having a field day to recoil. More significantly, the horror’s psychological aspect tackles not only our fears of home invasion and strangers, but a host of issues bound up with commitment, love, and the difficulty of letting either go as well. Witness Josh’s begrudging seduction at the hands of Lila or David’s obvious difficulty with he and Lila’s “open relationship” for fine examples of the film’s cute observations on human nature. In a genre overpopulated with all-too-familiar references, it’s refreshing to see Funny Games U.S. get a nod here. Beyond the deeper similarities like audience “culpability” or skewed (and skewered) families, David wears crisp white shirts throughout, an unmistakable nod to Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet’s preppy psycho chic from Haneke’s under-appreciated 2007 remake.
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What Open House lacks in finesse, it makes up for with ambition. The film juggles a host of ideas more interesting (and frightening) than those found in the average horror/thriller. Both Geraghty and Helfer imbue the film with a moral complexity that enriches what could have become merely generic torture scenes; imagine if Sissy Spacek had been a more willing accomplice to Martin Sheen in Badlands and you’re on the right track. Geraghty is especially adept at showing the duality at the heart of his (or any) addiction. David’s frustrated at his compulsion to continue, in his case, killing as well as determined to break that cycle. No matter how many ghastly things he’s done, Geraghty never lets us forget that somewhere inside he knows he ought to stop. Where things REALLY start getting interesting is when David’s conscience starts pulling him away from his – oh, I almost spoiled the twist – pulling him away from Lila. It’s just a shame Paquin didn’t handle the pair’s co-dependence with a tad more restraint and focus at times. As it is, the first-time writer/director’s eager to impress script leaves the film feeling like the dress rehearsal for something special instead of the finished article.
Twists are tricky. There’s a lot of careful groundwork involved and it doesn’t take much to blow a big reveal. It can be something as innocuous as one poorly chosen word or an actor leaning into a glance or gesture too much and BAM! The whole thing comes down. That “BAM” occurs in Open House the minute its antagonists take centre stage. At first, there are just enough allusions to children (“come play with me!”) and family (particularly, the coldness with which they can inflict cruelty on one another) for it to feel like just another layer to the film’s thematic fabric. However, this good work is undone rather abruptly in an exposition-heavy dinner party scene towards the end that’s a draft or two away from becoming truly great. A bit like the rest of the film, really.
“Hello, Operator? I’m trapped in a horror movie and I seem to have misplaced my Scream Trilogy Box Set. Should I just NOT turn my back to the nearest wall and wait for assistance?”
Anna Paquin fans thinking of picking this up based on her presence alone should proceed with caution: the once and future Rogue’s involvement is minimal at best. Drew Barrymore in Scream minimal. Robert Rodriguez used a turtle, a guitar, a bus and whatever else he had access to on El Mariachi because he had to as a first-time director. For Andrew Paquin, that meant getting his star sister to do a day or two’s work on this movie. You can’t blame the guy for playing the hand he was dealt, but this is no Anna Paquin vehicle, despite what her floating head on the disc’s cover suggests. On the other hand, admirers of Tricia Helfer will be pleased to learn her “and Tricia Helfer” billing (known forevermore as “The Robert Duvall credit” to CHUD Show fans) is also misleading. She’s front and centre for much of the movie and brings a gleefulness to her sordid actions that’s as close to captivating as the film gets.
Picture and sound quality are both spot-on, highlighting the contribution of Nathan Barr’s piercing score nicely. Geraghty and (Andrew) Paquin are good value in their commentary track, too, sharing the obligatory recollections and explanations with obvious pleasure. As is so often the case with commentaries, though, it fares best when conversation swings off-topic. Geraghty’s tangent on the communal accommodation he shared with Jeremy Renner, Guy Pearce et al on The Hurt Locker being a prime example. That said, it would’ve been nice if they’d turned their phones off during recording. The unmistakable sound that is “incoming text buzzing” is fine once, but gets fairly annoying after three or four times.
Three deleted scenes are featured, including the aptly titled “David Stuffs Alice In Trunk.” They either show alternate directions the film was taking as it came together in the editing process or expand on what was already clear so they’re no great loss to the finished cut. Trailers for the film and a few other Lionsgate releases round off a decent, if unremarkable package. Definite room for improvement on Open House 2: In Escrow.