Is the movie intentionally trying to be bad? Since the advent of good-bad popularity from the likes Birdemic and Sharknado, it’s been a question I asked several times while watching movies such as Happy House. Does it want to be funny or is it intentionally cheap? Does it want to be schlocky horror or did it just end up that way? As a good rule of thumb, if a movie seems to be trying a little too hard to be dry and terrible, it most likely is a bad movie.
The premise centers around a collection of cliche characters at a bed and breakfast deep in a rural area. A feuding couple Joe and Wendy attempt to rekindle their romance at the sleepy house. The owner Hildie is a kindly old conservative woman who specializes in rules and blueberry muffins. Her son is the quiet giant who is often seen with an ax for chopping wood. Other guests include a Swedish lepidopterist (never thought I’d ever write that word out of science class) and a vocally-liberal English professor. Despite there being some vitriol and tension between all these characters at some point or another, it’s played out far too dry to elicit any emotion.
But I did almost smile at the gotcha moments in the script. Hildie has a strict three-strike rule in the house. When the couple ask about the consequences of breaking the rules, she simply laughs and states “you don’t want to know.” Horror movie spider-sense quickly sounds alarm bells that something bad is going to happen involving granny and her guests. But, no, the punishment is so minute that it’s laughable. At least, I would have laughed if it weren’t a fake-out that took 30 minutes to prepare.
For most of the film we’re just watching characters do little, say little and act little within the Happy House. There’s some dialogue thrown back and forth with some clashing personalities, but none of it ever really develops into anything meaningful or interesting. The English professor snaps at Hildie about politics and religion, but the yelling is quietly quelled before it even starts. Joe and Wendy snip at each other with passive-aggressive jabs, but never go further than that. There’s a very quiet scene where all of them are in the same room together, wasting away the afternoon with the small talk of heavy subjects with light delivery. It should be worth noting that this whole scenes goes on for an extended period of time without a cut. It’s not a wonder of cinematography and acting, but it was refreshing to see such shooting in a modern picture.
The majority of the running time finds the characters and the audience waiting for something to actually happen. It isn’t until the third act when a surprise element of horror is added when an escaped psychopath tortures the inhabitants of the house. He’s played up too goofily by Charles Borland who tries way too hard to embody a serial killer. You just can’t take him seriously as a threat even when he’s effectively murdering his victims. Or is that the point? Was there a point? Is there some deeper meaning or satire to its deadpan approach to the cliches of horror? If there was, it certainly loses its way by the time the serial killer is slowly chasing the couple with an ax.
Happy House is so off-beat that I’m surprised it actually has any beats in between its fluctuating tone and plot. There’s some potential in the way writer/director D.W. Young shoots locations and stages his actors. But he’s all over the place in a movie that can’t quite find a balance between its comedy and horror. Despite some intelligence in conception, it’s woefully ignorant in presentation. Which is a real shame considering I’d love to see a horror satire in which a kindly old woman really does just want to maintain a house and bake blueberry muffins instead of chop off heads.
You rated this film: 2
Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Classification is to be confirmed by the British Board of Film Classification
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