Friday, May 3, 2013

Very odd charm keeps D.W. Young's killer comedy, THE HAPPY HOUSE, percolating

Nothing quite turns out the way most confirmed movie-goers will initially imagine in the new and awfully slow and quiet mystery/
comedy/thriller, THE HAPPY HOUSE. Slow and quiet is not necessarily a negative, however, even for a movie that includes a madman with an ax. You'll have to tamp down those expectations somewhat and give over to the plodding pacing, but once you do, there are a few surprises, a lot of charm and some teeny-weeny jolts in store.

The film's writer/
director/editor, D.W. Young, turns out to be the fellow who first made me aware of just how unusual and worthwhile were many of the films distributed by First Run Features, the company that is releasing this movie and so many others that TrustMovies has viewed and loved over the past few years. Back in 2008 I took a chance on Young's first documentary, A Hole in a Fence, and was blown away by it -- the concept and the execution. (That early review on this blog can be found here.) That's when I first looked into FRF's catalog and realized that I had already seen a number of its excellent and unusual titles and perhaps should be seeing even more. So, thank you, Mr. Young, for that gift.

Since A Hole in a Fence appeared, Young has made three more short films, one documentary and two narratives, one of which -- Not Interested (which yours truly has not seen) -- does sound, in plot and spirit, a little like what the filmmaker has created in The Happy House, in which a young couple, seeking to repair some of the inevitable relationship damage that occurs over time, decides to get out of the city and off into the countryside to relax.

The young man (Khan Baykal, two photos above) reserves a place at a local Bed-and-Breakfast he finds online, even though the young woman (Aya Cash, above) hates B&B's. Once they arrive and meet the proprietors (Marceline Hugot (below, right) and Mike Houston, below, far left), it is clear that this will not be your every-day, Bed-and-Breakfast stay. Mr. Young sets up certain expectations here (will this be a milder Motel Hell?) and then quietly and rather lengthily subverts them.

The filmmaker has assembled a very good cast (most of its members are shown above and below) that makes for an odd assortment. Yet this strangeness, as one oddity rubs up against another, produces low-key sparks. At times the movie seems incredibly old-fashioned, as though someone had just seen Ten Little Indians and wanted to replicate it. But, no, that's not it, either. Young is after something quirkier, I think, a kind of relationship rom-com meets the man of your worst nightmare, with a whole group of off-the-cuff-and-off-the-wall characters bounding around the periphery.

All this is heady, but in a bizarre manner. It's nothing like Doug Liman's masterpiece Go, which was equally bizarre with style and speed to spare. No, there were times during this film when I wanted to take the pen with which I was scribbling notes and use it to goose Mr. Young into a little more action. But the near-inaction, near-almost-sex, near-blood-and-guts moments and so much else that's near-but-not-quite-here is part of the movie's strange charm.

The Happy House grows on you, and once it has come to its conclusion, you may be pleased to have tried it. I have to say, though, that in these days of high-priced movie tickets, increased MTA fares, and everything else that goes into a "night out," this is a film you might want to wait for DVD/streaming to check out. Still, do check it out.

The movie, from FRF and running just 80 minutes, opens today in New York City (at the Cinema Village) and next Friday, May 10, at the Gateway Film Center in Columbus, Ohio, as part of this theater's spring Independent Film Showcase.

Personal appearance! 
To meet Mr. Young and some of his cast members 
at the Cinema Village, show up for the 7pm screening tonight 
(except it's already sold out) or tomorrow, Saturday 
(for which tickets are still available).

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