AUGUST 23, 2010
I wasn’t too surprised to learn that True Blood stars (and new life newlyweds, according to several people on my facebook/twitter who have never met them and yet care about their lovelifes) Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer were barely in Open House, despite their prominence on the box art, which put their more recognizable faces in front of the other actors. Because if you look at the cast list, they are listed after the others – it’s not nearly as dishonest as giving a big star top billing despite limited screen time. However, the plot description on the back seemed to be from a different movie entirely, one that sounds slightly more exciting, if a bit derivative of The Strangers.
“When a couple on the brink of divorce attempts to sell their house on their own, they discover that one of their potential buyers isn’t apt to leave. The unwanted guest tortures the couple from their basement, and they have little hope of getting out of their marriage and their home alive.”
OK for starters, they aren’t selling the house on their own – in fact the realtor (real estate horror!) is the first character we meet. But that is minor; the real issue is making it sound like it’s about a couple fighting off a single psycho, when in reality they kill the male (Moyer) in the first reel, and he dies rather quickly while fucking Tricia Helfer in a hot tub. I’m sorry, how is that torture? Also, whether or not he was a potential buyer in the first place is inconsequential (nor is it even in the movie – they just sort of show up), but regardless, there are two “buyers” (Helfer and Brian Geraghty), and the movie is way more about them than the victims (or victim, Rachel Blanchard, since Moyer doesn’t really count and Paquin just plays a friend of Blanchard’s who dies even quicker than Moyer). Also, just while we’re on subject, even before his death sort of sealed the deal, it didn’t seem like either of them were trying to save their relationship – so it’s not like a Strangers or Vacancy type deal where a couple learns to love again after being terrorized by some folks.
Now, I’m not necessarily saying this is a bad thing, since the movie is a bit more original than I was expecting, but between the slightly misleading promise of True Blood stars and the way off plot description, folks are likely to be pissed off when they watch the film. I mean, Shawshank Redemption is a great movie, but if you tell someone it’s a typical Stephen King tale about two men fighting against an unholy monster, they probably won’t be too thrilled when Tim Robbins starts making a chess board.
So what is it really? Well, basically it’s about Geraghty’s character being torn between his devotion to Helfer’s character (the nature of their relationship is revealed only in strong hints) and his attraction to Blanchard, who he was supposed to kill but has kept locked in the basement, bringing her food and such in exchange for her being quiet so Helfer doesn’t find out about her. It’s not entirely successful – Geraghty barely speaks, so he’s not someone you can ever get attached to in order to ever really sympathize with, and it’s a bit slow even at 85 minutes, but I never knew where it was going, so that’s always a plus.
It also delivered a surprising number of bloody kills. Here I am expecting MAYBE 2 or 3, but it was closer to 10. None of the characters are particularly well developed, so they’re not exactly emotionally taxing deaths, but they’re violent and splattery, and definitely stick out from the cold and somewhat sterile look of the film. Joe White’s photography is terrific throughout, with lots of perfectly symmetrical compositions that reflect Geraghty’s character’s slight OCD tendencies, and even though the entire movie is shot in the house (save for one quick scene of Moyer in Hollywood somewhere as he drives to his eventual doom), the scope 2.35 aspect is used perfectly. And it was shot digitally! You all know I’m not a big fan of digital, but the Red is slowly making me a fan. I was actually fooled into thinking it was film on more than one occasion.
I also enjoyed seeing Helfer in a role that made sense. I was never a die-hard Battlestar fan (it took me forever to get through the final season), and one thing that I never shined to was her various roles (imaginary and real), and it was more the wardrobe, not the acting, that allowed me to know which one was which. Incidentally, I just watched the season finale of Fringe, and Anna Torv had to play dual roles in that, and I could tell which one was which instantly, just from her subtle differences in acting. But I never got that on BSG, and I don’t suspect it was Helfer’s fault as an actress – the show just got too convoluted at times. Here, she’s a full blown psycho, manipulating Geraghty into doing things for her, seducing and killing men for the hell of it, etc. I’d love to see her get bigger/better roles in the future.
As I mentioned, the characters they kill aren’t particularly well developed, which makes the last act of the film very anticlimactic. The pair throws a dinner party and invites a bunch of folks wee don’t know/care about, and that serves as the bulk of the climax. Once they’re all taken care of, Blanchard is discovered by Helfer, and then there’s the expected battle, and then the movie’s over. I would have liked to have seen these two things combined somehow, so that Blanchard was discovered during the party, with Helfer snapping as her “perfect” party fell apart right before her eyes. It would have been more satisfying emotionally and cinematically, I think.
Geraghty and writer/director Andrew Paquin (yes, Anna’s brother) provide a decent commentary that covers the usual indie film bases, though it’s nice to have an actor’s perspective along with the director’s for once, so it doesn’t become a series of “we shot this here and I really loved working with so and so” revelations, as they eventually just sort of discuss the story and the film’s production without really addressing the precise on-screen action. They also discuss some changes to the story, such as a condensed opening act, which would have included more of Geraghty stalking Blanchard from her house before she knows he’s there. Some of that is included on the deleted scenes, which are all worth a look if you enjoyed the movie, but not particularly essential. And since this is a Lionsgate DVD, we also get a bunch of trailers for movies of little relation (two of them seem to be action movies starring UFC types).
I can’t fault the marketing team for trying to get the attention of True Blood fans, but it’s also a bit of a shame that they did so, as it would probably appeal to fans of psychologically based survival thrillers (it reminded me a bit of Summer’s Moon at times – if you dug that movie, you’ll probably enjoy this one just as much), who are likely to skip it, since the cover is straight up horror. Unless there are others like me out there who habitually rent every single horror movie from their local Blockbuster, of course. Those guys will find it.
What say you?