The Happy House (2013)
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The story starts as a variation on Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap" with some "Tucker and Dale vs Evil" overtones. However, Young's screenplay is all set up and no follow through and degenerates from quirky to sub-par dull about ¾ of the way through. IMDb shows that Young's previous films and videos have been shorts, and the construction of this story bears that outthere's only about 45 minutes of story crammed into this hour and a half.
It's not mentioned on IMDb, but I'd bet that the majority of Young's experience is in live theatre and not film. I say this because he obviously has a talent for working with actors and getting the best out of themthis is an area where low budget films are usually at their weakest, but it is HH's greatest strength. Young also seems uncomfortable with film editing, which makes much of the movie seem like an adapted stage play. He prefers very long, static shots, as though the camera was set up at the edge of a stage and just left to run while the actors stand or sit in one spot and talk. While this does often show off the skills of the actors-- who interact in these dialog-heavy sequences with a rhythm and naturalness that rarely rings false it doesn't allow the protracted scenes to be edited for pace and is undeniably boring from a visual standpoint. And when young does employ standard editingover the shoulder shots or povsthey are clumsily handled, as if he didn't really want to insert them, but felt he had no choice. Also, when locations shift between sequences, the screen simply fades to black and then back up again, like a curtain falling and rising. However this technique seems less like a stylistic choice and more like an "I'm doing it this way because I don't know another way to get from here to there."
Anyway, I don't want to sound like I'm ragging on the film. Young does many, many things right. As I said before, he gets very good performances out of his actors (and we all know that horrible acting is usually a low budget film's major weakness).
This movie was just a third of a screenplay and one professional editor away from being a classic indie comedy-horror flick along the lines of Ti West's "The Innkeepers." I look forward to more from all the folks involved in "The Happy House."
It starts out just plain weird. With an old-fashioned batty housewife, Hildie, ordering the couple around, and her strange grown son, Skip, who may or may not kill people, it doesn't seem like the most inviting movie to watch, but it does suggest there will be some kind of plot eventually.
And sure enough, there is a plot. With Joe and Wendy stuck there, a Swedish lepidopterist who likes staying there, and then the arrival of Hildie's significantly more normal sister, Linda, we now have a full house of people and action that can unfold entirely within the house and amongst the conversation of the people.
A deputy arrives at the door informing them that a serial killer is on the loose and they should not leave the house. I tend to like movies that force the action into one location and let the dialogue drive the characters forward. They each have their distinct personality and their own ideas on what they should to keep themselves safe. They make a number of mistakes, but I guess that's what keeps this horror-comedy silly.
I think I might be in the minority in wanting more character drama, but that's probably why I liked "The Happy House" which is short on thrills and laughs. It's an interesting premise with some strange elements but there's enough intrigue to the characters to keep some fans interested.
Who Might Like This: People who like character dramas disguised as horror-comedies; anybody looking for an odd combination of horror, comedy and relationship drama.
Long story short - an annoying New York couple stay at a B&B run by an annoying old woman and her dull son. There they play with their cell phones and tablets, meet a boring Swedish butterfly collector and then play with their electronic toys some more.
Once the "horror" starts, it's really hard to care about the fate of these dullards. But don't worry, they don't seem to care much either. And by the time this excursion into ennui sputters to a halt with all the impact of a wet firecracker, neither do we.
First of all, it goes somewhere rather unexpected, which was a lot of fun. Second, the performances were actually pretty great, even working with what could be very cliché characters; they brought them to life in a way much more realistic than other (even better) films may have done.
But for me, what made this film was the likable nature of the characters. I find it hard to connect with a movie when I don't like the people in it. No such problems here.
If you don't mind something that doesn't quite live up to what it could have been, this is a nice, light watch.
A self aware dark comedy. A simpler cousin of the Scream franchise. A pretty good soundtrack.
Now mind you, it isn't actually the 2 stars that i gave it --since is was ranked so highly at IMDb.com, I had to intervene with the low rating and this rebuke/review. It's a solid 4.5 however; so, I'll point out the stuff that made it such, along with the monotony that kills it.
Joe & Wendy (Khan Baykal & Aya Cash respectively) are an unintentionally-mis-matched couple trying to escape some of there frustrations with life and each other at a --not so far away-- bed and breakfast. While amending some differences, their frustrations mount. A quirky (but lovable) hostess Hildie (Marceline Hugot), who has a list of unexpected demands that could obfuscate even the strictest of puritans --the consequences are "dire," yet she steals the show in this picture to a large extent. Her son is a large, oafish character, whom one can't decide is a threat or endearing. Decidedly, the couple fears the worst for not only themselves but also for a rather likable chum staying at the B&B (Hverven played by Oliver Henzler), an entomologist with a thing for the ladies & butterflies.
Added to the mix is a seemingly sensible Kathleen McNenny (playing Hildie's sister Linda), who sheds a little light on Hildie & her son. Soon, a sheriff knocks at the door warning the cast of an escaped madman ("Desmond the Decapitator" played by Charles Borland). After the sheriff leaves, Desmond (big surprise) comes to the door during dinner, well dressed and polite.
This is where the ridiculousness begins ramping up. The elderly hostess with a madman on the loose is allowed to go to the door with her .44 magnum, but naturally the killer (who's claiming to have car trouble) sees it and easily disarms her. The madman proceeds to hold them all hostage, killing a couple of them, including himself by accident (uneventfully chopping himself in the back with an ax).
The married couple seeking refuge at the B&B are just mismatched and unbelievable. One doesn't care about their relationship and when she storms out of the B&B "stealing" the car AND the coveted muffins which are the object of consequences rendered for rule-breaking, her husband doesn't even bother to pursue.
The movie overall just has the feel of a "B" movie, so from the beginning, none of characters are taken seriously. They are scattered and don't seem to have any unison, other than Hildie & her son.
In conclusion this movie is one to avoid. It's a mess, from the mismatched characters to an unbelievable madman, who somehow manages to kill himself in pursuit of his prey. It is more like a boring drama, not a comedy horror.
Well, unfortunately this film does not include Siouxsie Sioux's "Happy House" on the soundtrack. But what it does have is some odd pseudo-intellectual conversations centering around Nouveau Recontextualism and a Bukowski reference, as well as a butterfly scientist (who loves Nabokov).
Neil Genzlinger at the New York Times does not love this movie. He writes, "The film, a sleepy, low-budget affair, merely enacts a series of horror movie clichés, as if that were enough. Its bland actors and wit-free script do nothing with the familiar elements but present them." That is not without merit. The movie tries to be a horror comedy, but is very light on the horror and equally light on the comedy. While still enjoyable for its characters, there is really nothing memorable and this comes off as an experiment that was not completely successful.