Monday, September 14, 2015

Quaint Misbehavin'

Surely I’m not the only person who, when on vacation at a lovely bed and breakfast run by an utterly charming couple in upstate New York, is entirely convinced that I’m going to be slaughtered and eaten (order not yet determined). 

While my darling husband might not have agreed with this prediction upon our recent trip to the Hall of Fame hamlet of Cooperstown, I felt quite satisfied to stumble upon a horror film on Instant Watch essentially sold as “that utterly charming couple running the lovely bed and breakfast in upstate New York is actually trying to kill you.”

The Happy House is actually a much more surprising film than such a tagline might suggest, so butter your muffin and let’s get on with it. 

Quick Plot: Joe and Wendy are your typical young attractive Brooklyn couple undergoing some relationship pains. To spruce up their romance, they drive through the countryside to a discount bed and breakfast run by the easily offended Hildie and her quietly imposing son Skip. The only other guest is a Swedish lepidopterist (that’s the fancy word for “butterfly catcher”) named Nils and Hildie’s modern academic sister Linda. 

Much like me, Wendy begins to see signs of murderous intent all about her quaint little quarters. Hildie issues a rule book with a “three strike” edict, which Skip seems eager to carry out any time of night. Joe brushes it all off, but a few odd happenings keep us all wondering.

The Happy House is a near impossible film to discuss well without spoiling because it contains a few key twists delivered with such surprise that to explain them would ruin their effect. My quick and sparse review is thus: as a light horror comedy, it’s not overly funny or scary, but in the realm of indie genre film, it’s unusual enough to still merit a breezy 85 minute Instant Watch.

While I won’t be spoiling the ending of The Happy House, I am about to go into a little more detail that one shouldn’t particularly know going in fresh. For those who have seen the film, continue onwards. All others, your trip stops here. 

The Happy House would’t be the first film to give a solid bait ‘n switch on the identity of its killer, but it does it in one of the more unique ways of recent years. By the time Nils is paying for his third strike, we as the audience have no choice but to fervently nod at Wendy’s insistence that Hildie and Skip are more than likely raging axe murderers using guests’ leftover parts to enhance the world’s best blueberry muffins. Years of watching these kinds of movies have surely taught us this as fact.

It’s a pretty nifty twist to see that The Happy House has a very different plan on its mind. Instead of revealing our oddly strict bed and breakfast team as viscous killers, it instead introduces the token (but not quite typical) escaped mental patient axe murderer as the big bad in its third act.

By this time, we’ve come to know and like this odd little gaggle of Happy House occupants, especially the steely Marceline Hugot as Hildie and Mike Houston as Skip (he of brilliantly understated comic timing). We almost don’t want a hunt ‘em down horror flick to happen to these characters, all of whom seem to come from a far more innocent universe undeserving of a slasher victim fate. 

Filmed on a teeny budget and in an actual bed and breakfast, The Happy House is something of an embodiment of the word “quirky.” Writer/director D.W. Young has assembled a strong and understated cast that seems to be having fun with the offbeat material, and the very concept of its villain tease makes for some genuine fun surprise. The drawback is that the final stalking sequence just can’t seem to find its footing. It’s hard to know what to take seriously when the film itself hasn’t quite decided. That being said, I certainly admired its spirit in telling an old tale (or really, two) with a brand new spin.

High Points
High praise must go to David Ullmann’s uniquely intense musical score, which sets such an oddly unnerving tone right from the start and is used with great fanfare when the horror kicks in

Low Points
Aforementioned lack of commitment to finale tone

Lessons Learned
Always use whole milk when making blueberry muffins

Axes work in both forward and backward directions

Butterfly catchers have their own version of the Oscars, and it most likely requires a carefully tied neckscarf


The Happy House might very well be one of the oddest films I’ve seen in quite some time. Its tonal split personality doesn’t quite make it funny or scary enough to fully succeed at its aim, but it’s such a strange and fresh approach to rote material that it certainly deserves a watch. Check in on Netflix Instant and sign the guestbook below with your thoughts. 

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