The Happy House

So funny I forgot to laugh
★★
☆☆☆
Released: 
2013
Director: 
DW Young
Starring: 
Khan Baykal, Aya Cash, Marceline Hugot, Oliver Henzler, Kathleen McNenny
The Setup: 
Couple check in to suspicious bed and breakfast.
Discussion: 

If you're just browsing Netflix and considering watching some of those little titles you've never heard of, that sound kind of good--but you know could easily be kind of bad--you need to sit there with IMDb open and look up every single one. When you don't, you might end up watching something like this, which I made it to the end of without ever being completely bored, or annoyed, but if I had it all to do over again would have skipped entirely.

I was attracted to the promised idea of two annoying Brooklyn yuppies going to a rural bed and breakfast and being terrorized. After opening credits that show a man wandering through a field with a butterfly net, we join our couple, Joe and Wendy, with him annoyed that she's not ready to leave, and her announcing, just as they're leaving, that she hates B&Bs and doesn't want to go. Next thing, they're lost on a rural road, and have a fight since he didn't write down the directions and she's pissed about the whole thing anyway. They arrive at the B&B, the Happy House, after dark, and are met by a silent, hulking man who simply stares. Then they're brought in by older matron Hilde, and the goon is Skip, her son. They are introduced to the other guest at the house, Mr. Hverven, a Swedish lepidoptrist, much to the chagrin of Wendy, who hates B&Bs because you have to meet and talk to strangers. Hilde tells them that they have a few house rules, and presents them with a long list, and also have a "three strikes" policy. What happens if you get three strikes? "You don't want to find out."

So far, so okay. It has potential. The Brooklynites are humorously annoying, and maybe they'll get funnier. There are lots of horror situations set up already, and any of them could develop. Plus, the movie is clearly knowingly tweaking horror movie cliches, what with the uptight city couple, getting lost on the road, the place that is supposed to be super friendly but is actually creepy, the friendly matron who seems could turn violent in a moment, the goon son, the mysterious lodger, the set of strict rules, etc., so it seems that we're going to get a self-aware horror comedy, which is often delightful! Bring it on!

The next morning, Wendy and Joe bicker. Hilde brings out her famous muffins, and stands there as they try them, and even Wendy has to admit that they are uniquely delicious. They have red streaks in them, and there is talk of a "secret ingredient." When Hilde is out of the room, Hverven says "She wasn't kidding about the rules. And the son spies for her." Then Hverven uses the phone, which is strike three for him. He goes out into the field, and soon, Wendy sees Skip following him with an axe. Then Joe gets a strike, and soon Wendy gets one... and we see Hilde stirring something that looks like blood into her muffins.

SPOILERS > > >
Actually, that last sequence is where you start to see the movie falling apart. All of a sudden we just see hands adding ingredients to a bowl, as we hear Hilde talking over the footage, then we move on. That is; it's not part of a scene, and there's no point of view... it's not like we see Wendy or anyone ask for the recipe. And once it ends... it has the distinct smell of something inserted later, when it was realized that the film wasn't working. After a tense day in which Hverven seems to be gone, perhaps murdered, he shows up again, perfectly fine, and we find out that the consequences for having three strikes is... a day without muffins! And this is when you start to hear that pssssssssssss.... leaky balloon sound as the whole movie starts to deflate.

So all that stuff from the beginning? The possibly blood-infused muffins? The threats from the landlady? The hulking, possibly-violent son? The mysterious Swde? All that isn't going to come to anything, but THANKS ALOT for paying attention to it all! No really--THANKS! But there was no need. Then Wendy gets fed up with a rules, and takes off in Joe's car, making as though she's returning to New York. Joe sits there with his ironic, bemused expression, which you are slowly starting to realize is the one and only expression he has. You'd think he'd be a bit more upset at being abandoned without a car--HIS car, btw--at this possibly dangerous place, but nothing can get a rise out of the guy! Meanwhile, Wendy's lost, and the requisite creepily sexual redneck tow truck owner--Ronnie--shows up to offer her help, which she sanctimoniously refuses. She soon returns to the house, not apologizing to Joe, instead saying "You car's a piece of crap. And you never respected the fact that I hate B&Bs." She then says she doesn't want to fight. Gee--what a horrible human being!

Well, I hope you didn't get involved in that whole first half, because it's all going to be thrown out now. A cop comes by and tells them that there's an escaped lunatic on the loose. Soon the man himself shows up, and traps them all upstairs while he controls the downstairs with a gun. Many of them end up shot. The killer does have a nice way of taunting them upstairs in a way that is actually creepy, and should be used for a better movie. Joe and Wendy make a run for it in the morning, the killer in pursuit with an axe, which he hefts over his head to strike--and stabs himself in the back. He dies. Joe and Wendy catch a ride, and that's the end! Thanks so much for watching! We see the rare butterfly that Hverven was after land on the killer's body, which means something, but probably no one but the writer/director and his close family will care enough to try to figure out what.
< < < SPOILERS END

So it had a lot of promise, and is obviously clever, and you keep watching thinking somehow it's all going to amount to something, and it never does. The obnoxious Brooklyn couple is never quite obnoxious enough for us to want to see them get some comeuppance, and not sympathetic enough to make us want them to survive. Neither are skilled actors, but Joe is particularly bad, with his one expression and one affect. Blame for his performance also falls on the director, who clearly didn't pull anything out of him. There are a lot of feints in directions that could be developed... and then none of them are. The muffins end up meaning nothing. The rules end up meaning nothing. Hilde and all her potential menace come to nothing. Ronnie and the threats he brings come to nothing. Everything set up in the first half is just dropped when the second story starts, and there's almost nothing to that one before it is resolved in an unsatisfactory way, and the film is over.

Thing is, one gets the feeling that this is all supposed to be extremely arch and clever. I think the writer/director is trying to lead us down the roads of particular horror film cliches, then short-circuit them all in such a way that forces us to examine them. Ahhh, clever, clever, but he or she forgets to make the movie engaging, or enjoyable, or funny, in a way that would make us want to stick with it and figure out what it's trying to say. Mostly it just insults its audience by denying them any kind of satisfaction and making fools of them for paying attention to elements which are abruptly dopped our resolved unsatisfactorily. All we know is that this is DW Young's first feature, after a few shorts, and... well, it really seems like it. Experience is needed on several fronts. And Netflix... gee, it would be great if they had some sort of quality control.

Should you watch it: 

I wouldn't.