Thursday, May 02, 2013

Happy House: They’re Dying to Checkout

If you can’t afford the local wannabe Bates Motel, you can probably get hacked up for less at a bed & breakfast.  B&B’s are homier and more personal.  That’s why we stay in hotels.  One quarreling Brooklyn couple checks into a Hudson Valley B&B largely out of spite and passive aggression.  It would have been a terrible weekend anyway, but things take a deadly turn in screenwriter-director D.W. Young’s horror movie send-up The Happy House (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Hildie and her son Skip run the Happy House B&B with a strict set of rules their guests must abide by.  Wendy would not be inclined to follow them even under the best of circumstances. Barely on speaking terms with her slacker boyfriend Joe (who had the bright idea to take this trip in the first place), she will be a somewhat difficult guest.  Hildie will not appreciate that, not one little bit.  She duly warns the couple there are consequences for amassing “three strikes.”

Decidedly slow out of the blocks, Happy mostly forces its early attempts at laughs, but it makes an interesting pivot about halfway through.  The red district (you can’t say “red state” in New York) gun-owning, God fearing rubes might not be as crazy as Wendy and Joe had first thought.  Odder still, the film essentially evolves into what it had previously mocked, becoming a surprisingly presentable And then There were None style cat and mouse game.

Happy was shot within a functioning B&B in a region of New York State that had just been pummeled by Hurricane Irene, so it earns good karma for bringing some business to town.  Indeed, the Happy House looks authentic and lived-in, because it was (Young and his co-leads even stayed there as guests during filming).  The cuckoo clocks are also a nice touch, but it seems like there ought to be more taxidermy. 

It is a bit overstuffed with colorful characters though.  Marceline Hugot brings considerable depth and nuance to the seemingly authoritarian Hildie.  Likewise, Kathleen McNenny is a stitch as Linda, her leftwing English professor sister.  However, Happy lays it on a bit thick with the absent-minded Swedish lepidopterist staying at the fateful B&B in hopes of finding a rare butterfly.  Perhaps more problematically, Khan Baykal and Aya Cash just make a boring couple as Joe and Wendy.

In terms of execution, Happy is a dramatically mixed bag.  The DIY look does not help much either.  Still, Young incorporates some interesting ideas, consistently avoiding or subverting clichés. It will not be a breakout film, but horror movie fans might enjoy the ways it tweaks genre conventions, especially an inspired bit at the climax.  For the intrigued, The Happy House opens tomorrow (5/3) in New York at the Cinema Village.