"The Happy House" is the sunshiniest lark about an axe-wielding maniac to come around the pike since 2008's "Baghead
," blithely skewering and subverting audience expectations as it crisscrosses observational comedy, disconcerting horror, and the slice-of-life aesthetics of mumblecore. If writer-director D.W. Young hasn't made a particularly meaningful movie, he has made an original one, indulging in the common hang-ups and misgivings people have about staying in bed-and-breakfasts over more private hotels and inns and then cranking up the stakes an extra notch. Curiously, even at its most lethal, the characters retain a sort of laid-back attitude to the whole affair. They can barely believe what's happening themselves.
Joe (Khan Baykal) and Wendy (Aya Cash) are a frequently bickering couple who hope that leaving behind their big-city stresses and spending a few days in the country might be the ticket to solving their relationship issues. When Joe surprises Wendy with a stay at a cuckoo clock-filled B&B, however, it doesn't exactly warm her heart. Neither do the house rules (i.e., no loud music, no cursing, no midnight snacking) laid out by cheerful, God-fearing owner Hildie (Marceline Hugot), who informs them of her strict three-strikes policy. "What happens if we strike out?" Wendy asks. "Oh, you really
don't want to know," Hildie replies with a mischievous smile. So, yeah, she and her creepy grown son Skip (Mike Houston) might very well be lunatics who kill their misbehaving guests (or are they?). Whatever the case, Hildie makes some delicious blueberry muffins that should keep them around a while longer.
Toss in a Swedish butterfly catcher named Mr. Heverven (Oliver Henzler), a blowsy sister (Kathleen McNenny) who delights in teasing the devoutly religious Hildie, a broken-down car that won't start, a tow truck driver (Stivi Paskoski) who cryptically disappears, and an honest-to-goodness serial killer on the loose known as "The Decapitator," and "The Happy House" is nothing if not a fresh mixture of colorful characters, questionable manners, and rusty, suddenly-new-again horror conventions. It's never particularly scary, perhaps because it's so busy being lighthearted at its core, but there is something to be said of a climactic chase through a field that is but one step beyond a frolic and culminates in the most clumsy onscreen self-injury in recent memory. When all is said and doneand if they can surviveJoe and Wendy just might end up a closer pair than they were at the start. Too bad about that severed appendage.