We're quietly going through a sort of horror renaissance at the moment. It made big bucks at the box office, and there's horror projects and adaptations and TV series getting green-lit all over the place. You can barely swing a cat these days without hitting a new horror project.
At the forefront of all of this are the major streaming platforms, who now have the cash and resources to fund or purchase horror projects that the big studios might have been too risk-averse to take on. At least, that's how it works sometimes. Other times, they just scoop up some pile of crap that the traditional movie world didn't want to touch.
Which brings us to The Open House.
The premise is simple and promising: a mother and her radical teen son, recovering from the death of her husband, move into a friend's big rustic house in the mountains until they can get their precarious financial situation sorted out. The catch is that the house is technically up for sale, which means that once a week they have to vacate the premises so prospective buyers can have a look around. As Radical Teen points out, this is an inherently spooky concept because a murderer could come into the house and then hide in a closet until everyone else leaves. Eventually, it turns out that a murderer came into the house and then hid in a closet until everyone else left.
Usually, I prefer the build-up in a horror story to the pay-off. I like the parts of haunted house movies where the ghost is making doors open and close or trolling the occupants with odd noises in the middle of the night, because so often the story botches the big pay-off. The Open House severely tested that mindset. It botches the pay-off (it botches it hard), but before that it spends an ungodly amount of time on our hapless protagonists wandering around the house at night while absolutely nothing happens.
These scenes are rescued from being completely boring only by the movie's score, which could best be described as the musical personification of overcompensating. Damn near every shot of the house or its interior is accompanied by blaring strings and cheesy "creepy" music. There are movies that successfully build tension for their entire runtime despite nothing overtly scary or threatening actually taking place (the overlooked Martha Marcy May Marlene is a prime example, which you should watch if you want to be really paranoid for a few days), but that requires a subtle touch that this movie completely lacks.
But then we finally get to the big climax, and dear God in heaven, I have never had a movie waste my time harder than this one did.
Throughout the movie, there's this running side-plot where a creepy, overly-friendly neighbour woman keeps showing up and acting vaguely weird and unsettling. She seems oddly attached to the titular house--at one point she appears on the doorstep at night in a state of obvious confusion, claiming that the house is hers and that our protagonists are trespassing--and she keeps flip-flopping over whether her husband is alive or dead. My movie-brain immediately clicked into gear: clearly, the neighbour woman and her husband used to live in the house, and now they're trying to evict the interlopers from it so they can claim it again. Her husband is probably the killer. Or maybe she has a son, that must be what the suspiciously well-decorated child's room was about. Either way, the mysterious blocked-up tunnel that Radical Teen finds in the basement must have something to do with it.
Nope! The neigbour woman just has early-onset Alzheimer's and the villain is some random dude who uses open houses to murder people. He comes into the house during a showing, then kills both of the protagonists and moves onto his next target. The end.
Oh yeah, the main characters both die. All that time spent building up their grief and the ways it drives a wedge between them? Completely pointless. They just get killed.
I would dearly love to know what happened during the creation of this movie, because something clearly went disastrously wrong. All of the clues in the first two thirds of the movie indicate that the plot was initially intended to go in a different direction, and I can only assume some sort of catastrophic budget or scheduling problem forced the creation of a new, less complicated ending.
Either way, the result is a promising (and at times well-shot) horror idea that ends up being a complete dud. Spend your money more wisely next time, Netflix.