To watch Open House, Andrew Paquin’s limp splatterfest, is to revisit some of the hoarier conceits marking the last half-century of the non-supernatural horror film. While the figure of the maladjusted psychosexual killer who likes to videotape his murders dates back to Michael Powell’s 1960 classic Peeping Tom, the image of a woman chained to a wall in an isolated room recalls the contemporary Saw series of gore-a-thons. Similarly, just as Paquin’s frequent recourse to the cliché of potential rescuers showing up unexpectedly at the house where the heroine is being imprisoned only to be summarily dispatched by the murderer will be overly familiar to viewers of any number of teenie-kill pictures, the film’s lingering shots of gaping wounds and brief interest in corporeal punishment are an all too common fixture in the post Eli Roth horror landscape.
As always, the question is not so much the choice of material, but what the filmmaker does with it and Paquin’s tale of an odd couple who get their kicks visiting tony for-sale Los Angeles homes, dispatching the owners and enjoying a few days of domestic bliss before heading for the hills, unselfconsciously employs the aforementioned clichés without extracting the tensions that made them reliable strategies in the first place. A surpassingly dull affair, the film focuses on the central couple’s latest conquest, generating its sole measure of suspense from weak-willed David’s (Brian Geraghy) decision to keep the home’s owner Alice (Rachel Blanchard) alive in the basement unbeknownst to Lila (Tricia Helfer), his domineering partner-in-crime. But Paquin leaves aside any potential interactions between Alice and the other characters for such long stretches of time that any accumulated tension rapidly dissipates.
There’s some measure of fun in watching Lila and David enact their mock version of domesticity (doing laundry, throwing a dinner party, making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with the ends cut off) in the middle of a posh spread blighted by an ugly, and prominently placed, tropical theme print. (Ah, the bad taste of the rich!) But it’s not like the film has anything to say about the class divide or the vagaries of the real-estate market. As free of subtext as it is of narrative tension or general interest, Open House devolves into little more than a stale gorefest, enlivened only ever so slightly by the familial and sexual ambiguities of the central couple’s relations.