Joshua Reviews D.W. Young’s The Happy House [Theatrical Review]

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May 3, 2013 is one of this year’s most important cinematic dates. Marking the true start of this year’s summer film season, Iron Man 3 arrives in theaters and will likely be on its way to surpassing a billion dollars at the box office. However, a few films, ranging from the Olivier Assayas film Something In The Air to the continually expanding thriller Graceland, there is no shortage of pictures to entice those that like their films a little smaller and a little less bombastic.

And another entry into that group has finally arrived in theaters, and while it’s possibly the smallest of all these films, it’s definitely one to keep a keen eye on, as it expands out of this weekend’s New York premiere.

Entitled The Happy House, the film is a new thriller of sorts, focusing on a seemingly troubled romantic pair as they head to the countryside for a vacation with the plan being that they’ll find the spark once again. However, what they find instead is a bed and breakfast full of a bizarre mother-son duo, a scientist on the hunt for a previously thought extinct butterfly and possibly something far more dangerous. With an oddly bleak visual palette, The Happy House is a slight thriller with very little on its mind in the way of anything remotely thematically interesting, but what it does have is a solid sense of humor, and style to boot.

From writer/director D.W. Young, this mark’s the filmmaker’s feature film debut, and it’s quite a debut. With a taut script that blends terror and comedy with a rather shockingly assured hand, Young crafts a small, but excitingly tense, thriller that becomes less a tale about lovers on the outs than it is a “what if?” type cinematic questionnaire. When a detail about the surrounding area is revealed, the film shifts from a romantic comedy revolving around a couple in their nightmare bed and breakfast into a truly solid thriller, all due to Young’s assured sense of style and tone. The film’s cinematography is muted, almost to a fault, relying on grey and blue hues to really add a sense of dread to an otherwise comedic thriller.

Also, the performances here are almost uniformly noteworthy. Khan Baykal and Aya Cash star as the two long-time lovers, and their chemistry is both believable, and truly adds depth to an otherwise surface-level thriller. Marceline Hugot plays the bed and breakfast owner Hildie, and while much of the film’s early tension comes from her and her son Skip (Mike Houston) and their archaic house rules, they ultimately become the catalyst for some of the film’s best sequences. Toss in Oliver Henzler as the scientist Hverven, and you’ve got a cast that breaks expectations across the board.

However, the film is not without flaw. Immensely slight in every possible way, the film is a solid and tense thriller that has very little ability to sit with the viewer for anytime after the screening. Lacking any real weight emotionally or thematically, The Happy House is a solid visual piece and features good performances, but doesn’t carry with it any sort of deep impact that will leave the viewer either on the edge of their seat during, or wanting to talk about the feature on the way out.  A one note picture visually, the aesthetic will be a tough one to truly fall for if darker pictures aren’t one’s cup of tea, and clocking in at just around 80 minutes, the film is as breezy as any you’ll find.

Overall, while it’s ultimately a slight and forgettable thriller, The Happy House is chock full of interesting performances and, for those who go along for the ride visually (like this writer most certainly did), this will be a really great and perfectly toned thriller comedy that most people haven’t heard of. However, everyone should most certainly give this film a shot as it will be right up any genre-hounds alley.

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