A strange but not entirely unsatisfying mixture of sly social commentary and straight slasher flick, Andrew Paquin's Open House is hardly the scariest or most original horror flick you'll come across, but this indie feature (which premiered earlier this year at the Tribeca Film Festival) boasts a polished veneer, a tone that wavers between ferocious and slightly askew, and more than enough gory stuff to keep the splat fans happy. Toss in a few very strong performances, a few familiar faces you may enjoy (including the director's sister, Anna Paquin), and a nice tightening of the tension once Act III kicks in, and you have a "straight to video" horror flick that actually has a little artistry to it.
Hardly a fast-paced affair, truth be told, Open House focuses on a strange couple who take over a beautiful home that's about to be sold. By disposing of the former owners separately, our certifiably twisted duo are able to insinuate themselves right into the neighborhood ... for a while, anyway. Poor Alice (Rachel Blanchard), you see, has been jammed into a basement crawlspace by the maniacal Lila (Tricia Helfer), and her only hope of escape is to convince the craven David (Brian Geraghty) to let her go. But David lives in thrall of Lila, of course, and that woman is one of the craziest horror gals in quite some time. (Lila kills an inordinate amount of people without getting caught, plus she's pretty damn good at it.)
To his credit, Paquin delivers a gradual sense of claustrophobia -- the film never actually leaves the one location -- and his script takes a few clever swipes at suburban life, status symbols, and the "keeping up with the Joneses" behavior, but when all is said and done, Open House feels like little more than an austere and generally compelling horror flick / real estate thriller. The few satirical barbs don't actually amount to a whole lot, which forces Open House to work a lot harder on the "surface" level -- and in the realm of basic, gory, well-shot mayhem, Open House actually works pretty well.
It certainly helps that the three leads are so strong (particularly the domineering Helfer and the weak-willed Geraghty), that a few familiar faces pop up for a little carnage, and that Act III ramps up with some sincerely palpable tension. As to what the film is ostensibly trying to "say" about young couples, the dangers or real estate brokerage, or the sort of interior design a pair of his & hers lunatics might prefer, but as a handsomely-shot, generally simple, and enjoyably vicious indie horror flick, Open House may actually surprise a few folks. There's something about an ugly presence in a beautiful setting that's just sort of ... interesting.