Saturday, July 1, 2017

HAVENHURST (2016) [Paul's Review]

Here’s the offer.  You can live, rent-free, in a pristine, old-money, New York apartment with tall ceilings, wainscoting up to here, immaculate furnishings and updated appliances.  But, in return, you have to give up one of your most beloved vices, let’s say drinking.  We all like the occasional tipple, right?  But in this rent-free, fantastic apartment in the Havenhurst building, if you have one drink, you DIE!  So, what do you do?
Right, ok, so it would seem an easy decision, sitting there in your reasonably-priced house somewhere west of Manhattan.  Nope, you think, I’ll pay for my rent and my FREEDOM, prop my feet up on my  worn craigslist coffee table (wow, that thing’s still here?  I meant to replace it years ago, but it still holds drinks up, I suppose) and watch Havenhurst, which you heard from this blog was actually pretty ok, while sipping on a scotch and soda.  That’s what you drink right?  Thought so. 

But those of you that have looked for housing in Manhattan lately might pause.  I’d like some more information, you say.  What’s the square footage?  What’s the policy on pot?  I’m not saying I’d take it, but it’s worth poking around a little bit, reading the fine print, you know?  Here, on page 634, line 15, the lease says “or you will DIE!”   Can you tell me, is it a quick death? 

So Havenhurst.  It's actually pretty OK!  After a pre-title sequence in which a guy and a girl doing blow in their apartment get dead, the plot opens with the alcoholic Jackie (Julie Benz) leaving rehab.  Through the philanthropy of Eleanor Mudgett (played with flair by Fionnula Flangan, and attired with, uh, ambition by suits made entirely of lapels), recent rehab patients can live, for AS LONG AS THEY LIKE WITHOUT RENT, in her tudor-style Havenhurst building on the upper east side.
Immediately upon taking up residence there, Jackie becomes suspicious.  The handyman is creepy.  There’s a creepy kid on the elevator.  Somebody laid out a dress on her bed while she was taking a shower.  Which is extreme creepy.  But Jackie is nonplussed.  She has zero plusses to give.  You know what she does with that dress that some unknown intruder laid out for her?  She fucking wears it, that’s what!
Hello?  Who's there?

Is someone in here?

What the . . .?  I didn't put this here!

That's mysterious but . . .

. . . I'm not above taking a fashion tip!

One of the best of the creepy things that Jackie notices are the pictures that are hanging, framed, around her apartment.  The photos are all interior photos of the apartment.  It’s a gleaming moment of genuine uncanny in the film.  It’s an apartment decorated with itself!

Unfortunately, some of this is dulled by what we discover later.  Jackie has taken the apartment of her friend from rehab, the one who did blow, blowing her lease, and was dispatched before the title credits.  This friend, Danielle, was a photographer, and Jackie discovers that the photos of the apartment were part of a research project that Danielle was doing on the building.  Apparently, the photos show that different parts of the architecture in the building changed.  Like, there’s a picture of a wall in the laundry room.  And then a picture of a door in that wall.  And Jackie’s like, look—Danielle was onto something.  She documented the changes in the building.  Someone or something is making alterations to the building!

Now, faithful reader, what do you think my problem is going to be with this?  You’d think it was the fact that hanging a door and doing all that drywall would make a lot of noise—why do you need before-and-after photos to tell that new walls and doors were being built when you could just mosey on by while the work was being done itself.  You’d probably hear the banging.  Right?

Speaking of banging, one of the tenants is a former prostitute in leopard print.  She bangs a dude for cash and, bang!, she gets an eviction notice.  Which means impending death for her, and, presumably, bang! no security deposit refund for her next of kin.

Nope, I’m willing to accept ninja contractors who work under the cover of darkness and hammer so softly that it’s inaudible.  My issue is: how did Danielle know that work was going to be done on that wall before the work even happened?  How do you know to take before pictures when you don’t know that there’s going to be an after?
But nonplussed, Jackie goes investigating with the help of a bland little neighbor girl and the sometimes help of her detective friend.  But getting nowhere, she decides that the only way to find out where Danielle went is to get herself evicted (she’s not actually aware that this gets you killed).  So she gets herself some whiskey, props her feet up on the coffee table (boy, that’s a nice coffee table.  Man, I wish this one from craigslist would wander off someday), and gets off that wagon.

At this point, the film drops through a trapdoor from a suspense thriller into a splatter torture-basement movie.    

See, the changes in the building were to create a labyrinth of secret passageways and gazoodles of trap doors.  Characters fall into trap doors in all manner of places.  One trap door is in the back of a closet, which would seem like awful trap door placement.  Just not a lot of foot traffic through there.  Another trap door is at the foot of a bed, and the bed inclines on a set of mechanical gears to dump the sleeper down the chute.  That’s a lot of work to get someone down a chute.  One of the trapdoors drops Jackie into a tiny room.  How will she get out?  You guessed it—there’s a trapdoor in there too!
At the bottom of the festival of trapdoors, a cavefish-white leather-clad sadist menaces the evicted by eviscerating them and hanging them on slabs and whatnot.  The special effects here are sufficiently grody.  There’s more than one time that you’ll think: getting cut in half and having your guts fall out has got to be a metaphor for what it feels like to get evicted from a rent-controlled apartment on the upper East side. 
The film finishes with half a twist.  Spoiler here: the sadist in the basement is some relation to the philanthropist proprietor, as is the handyman, and all three of them are recruiting the bland girl to join their murderous, torture-happy, but well-meaning family.  Though an incongruous grouping, it allows Fionnula Flanagan to chew up so much scenery it’s a wonder we can’t see Los Angeles through the bite holes in the walls (that’s right, this movie is New York on the outside and California on the inside, like an avocado bagel or Biggie Smalls).  Particularly noteworthy is her dismissive wave sending the gimp-like sadist back into his hole.

Havenhurst may not wrap up neatly, the plot gets out of control and the action sequences feel dull near the end, but because of its admirable commitment to all things trapdoor, there’s always a ready-to-hand metaphor for how to get out cleanly.  Hey, is that a coffee table at the back of this closet?  aaaand. . . *foomp*.

Questions for Joe (and check out his review here):

1.  What would the basement sadist do with his time if everyone kept the terms of their lease? 

JD: What all basement sadists do in their free time: post comments on Youtube.

2.  If your bed tried to dump you down a chute, how would you escape?

JD: I live in a small condo with a woman and two children, Paul. If any space opened up in our apartment, any space at all, it would immediately be filled with toys and unfolded laundry. I would welcome the hole. I would pay for the hole.

3.  What if someone was addicted to masochism?

JD: Like Bill Murray in Little Shop of Horrors!

I guess they'd really enjoy their stay at Havenhurst, rent free no less! As an aside, I went to E3 this year and they opened it to 15,000 fans. You'd think 15,000 added to the normal 50,000 wouldn't have that big an impact, but out of the normal 50,000 probably only 10,000 are on the show floor at any given moment. But I think all 15,000 fans were on the show floor at all times. It was like being in a Coke bottle that someone shook up. I touched and was touched by hundreds of people constantly. And it occurred to me that somewhere in there, out of all those people, there was one person who was just loving it. Probably Bill Murray.

4.  Is being a prostitute really an addiction?

JD: No, but leopard print is. And apparently, so are lapels.

5.  What was up with that pedophile foster parent?  Shouldn’t there be, like, more oversight or something?  Or did this one just, heh, slip through the cracks (and down a chute!)? 

JD: I don't know, Paul. But he really nailed his drunk molester pervert act. A visceral performance if ever there was one. Took a lot of guts. He really let it all hang OUAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh........*

No comments:

Post a Comment