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Television The Open House: A singular entry in the creepy-house genre

There are times when it's all too much, right? The complexities of so much TV drama and the demands put on your already tired brain. That's why you watch old sitcoms on Netflix, and that's why there are seven episodes of The Big Bang Theory on the Comedy Network most nights of the week.

Or perhaps you're drawn to watching somebody go to a lot of trouble to fix up a house and sell it, all in 30 minutes, on some channel that airs dozens of such shows every week. You're not going to do the work yourself, so you'll watch somebody else do it for your entertainment. It's harmless.

Speaking of houses, some of us find that a good creepy-house thriller is the business if you want to be relaxed and diverted for a while. Yes, we do that. Creaky stairs and dark basements. You can't beat it for a dose of rest and recreation. And there's a new entry in the genre that just landed on Netflix.

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The Open House (streams from Friday, Jan. 19) is no blockbuster. It's not even that spectacularly creepy or frightening. There are no major stars in it. The entire infrastructure of the one-horror thriller is rather ordinary. That's what makes it interesting.

You see, the family at the core of the drama is a set of unusually plausible and authentic characters. Teenager Logan Wallace (Dylan Minnette, who was outstanding as central character Clay in 13 Reasons Why) lives with his mom and dad in a plain, lower-middle-class house. He's an aspiring athlete, but he'll need a scholarship to pursue his dreams because his mom and dad are broke – a paycheque-to-paycheque existence that Logan doesn't fully grasp.

His dad dies in a car accident, and a few minutes into the drama Logan and his mom (Piercey Dalton) are living in a new house. It's not theirs. Mom's sister is selling her old house, and they can stay there until it is sold. The only hitch is there is an open house every Sunday and strangers enter, either just eyeballing it or genuinely interested in buying.

Naturally, strange things start to happen. The local community is very small-town nosy. Logan is creeped out by people who ask too many questions. His mom wants him to just chill and practise his running. Besides, she's broke and doesn't want complications. A neighbour turns up in the middle of the night asking questions about the house. A door slams suddenly, and the phone rings at odd hours. There is something terribly creepy about the property, but the new occupants have no choice but to continue living there.

Directors and writers Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote set up a series of oddly timed fright scenes. The movie is never in a rush to make the viewer jump. There's a vagueness to the entire enterprise. The Open House is the sort of thriller that is very off-putting to younger fans of the genre – it lacks speed, has few jolts, and hardly anybody in it is beautiful.

But it's precisely this banality that makes it work and gives it a certain heft. It's about being broke. It's about not being in control of your life, career or schooling because you have no money to make decisions. The sprawling, beautiful house in the woods is a symbol of wealth, and that's the reason idiosyncratic strangers are drawn to it. The premise here isn't unique – the idea of poverty as evil and financial hardship as the worst sort of vulnerability is something that turns up in Stephen King's work.

The most corrosive and toxic fear in some of King's stories is the fear of being impoverished. It's an adult kind of horror.

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Here, in a very small-scale drama, you won't find spectacular gore or astounding monsters. Just people trying to survive, mildly depressed and worried. Sometimes that's more frightening than any monster lurking in the basement. As escapism, The Open House is a good diversion, but not lacking in seriousness.

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