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Monday, January 13, 2014

DVD Review: The Happy House

The Happy House is an unusual, quirky, and kind of wonderful little horror film that takes place in a secluded bed and breakfast, and features a number of distinct and interesting characters.

When it opens, the film introduces us to Joe and Wendy, who are about to go on a vacation and are having a little argument. Joe (Khan Baykal) is impatient to get going. “It’s a long drive. I don’t want to hit traffic.” The film then cuts to them in their car at the side of the road much later in the day, for in his hurry, Joe forgot the directions. Wendy (Aya Cash) tells him she hates bed and breakfasts. “All those awkward breakfasts and weird owners.” She also remarks that she can’t get cell phone reception. This of course seems like typical horror movie set-up stuff, and that is completely intentional. Joe tells Wendy, “We’re going to have fun.” But the strange music promises otherwise.

The Happy House is the name of the bed and breakfast, and when they arrive, a large and somewhat imposing man answers the door silently, rather than the kindly older woman one would expect to see. Though once they get inside, Hildie (Marceline Hugot), the kindly older woman, is there to greet them (the man is Skip, her son). She hands them a copy of the house rules and tells them there is one other guest, a Swedish guy. She tells them there is a three-strike policy regarding the rules. Joe and Wendy indicate they understand, clearly just wanting to be nice so they can get to their room. But Joe then asks what happens if they strike out. Hildie answers sweetly, with a laugh, “You really don’t want to find out, trust me.” Her son laughs too, the first sound we’ve heard from him. She also tells them there are no locks on the door, so no need for keys.

In their room, Wendy laughs about the rules, and reads some of them to Joe: “No inappropriate clothing…No outside food. No loud music.” The other guest, a lepidopterist who is there to hunt a rare butterfly, soon tells them that Hildie isn’t kidding about the rules. “And watch out for the son – he spies for her.” In addition to all of that, there are the blueberry muffins (with a secret ingredient, as Hildie teases).

Again, all of this is a great set-up. But it’s what the film does with it that is unusual and fun. I love the way the film plays with our expectations. It works so well in large part because of Marceline Hugot’s excellent performance as Hildie. Her sweetness and kindliness have a certain creepy aspect specifically because she’s not indicating any sort of creepiness. That’s also true of the atmosphere. It’s unsettling and creepy in its odd lack of creepiness. You know something is going to happen, but as the film goes on, you’re increasingly unsure of what it’s going to be.

The movie has its own pace, and takes its time. Even certain shots are allowed to go on longer than you’d expect. I love the shot of Hildie loading her gun, for example, as we see her put in each bullet.

The movie takes some unexpected turns. Fairly early on, Wendy announces she’s had enough, takes a tray of muffins and leaves in Joe’s car. It’s a funny moment, but it turns out she has no intention of returning. It’s an odd thing to do, especially as they’d already agreed to leave that morning, so it was only a matter of waiting a few more minutes. What this action does is make us strongly dislike her. And then when the car breaks down, she walks back to the house without her bag. She then becomes angry with Joe for not retrieving her bag. And you want him to yell at her: “Tough shit, you bitch, go get it yourself.”

And then a policeman arrives with a bit of news.

One thing I totally dig about this film is that when it’s dark, it’s really dark. It’s not that fake dark where you can tell just where the DP set the lights. And when there is just candlelight, it actually feels like there is just candlelight, rather than one of those magical candles that light up a whole room.

The Happy House is an enjoyable film. Though if you’re a person who likes a lot of gore in his or her horror, you’re likely to be disappointed. However, if you’ve seen a lot of horror films, you will almost certainly appreciate what this film is doing,

Special Features

The DVD includes Not Interested, a short film written and directed by D.W. Young, and starring Khan Baykal (who plays Joe in The Happy House). It’s a very cool short film, and also stars Leslie Hendrix.

There are also five minutes of outtakes, as well as “Hildie’s Secret Blueberry Muffin Recipe.”

The Happy House was written and directed by D.W. Young, and was released on DVD on January 7, 2014 through First Run Features.

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