Generally, I try to avoid bashing movies or video games on this blog; I don’t enjoy it. If I happen to experience something that is disappointing or simply bad, I generally try to find the silver lining in it, because (this should go without saying) nobody sets out to make something that is terrible; it happens because the line between excellence and awfulness is very thin and easily miscalculated, which is why something that is truly excellent is awe inspiring. But, that is why critiquing (and experiencing) both good and bad content is necessary and useful, not only to the talent behind the entertainment we consume, but to us, the people who experience it, as well. Having said that, the movie that inspired this topic is a movie called “Open House”, which is a Netflix Original released in January 2018, and it is absolutely terrible without any silver lining I could find; problem is, I don’t really want to critique it or analyze why it’s bad and where it fails. More so, what I actually want to do is exploring the benefits (if any) and drawbacks of having this movie released by Netflix on its subscription-based platform; in other words, is it worth populating a platform with bad stuff, just for the sake of having a well-populated platform?
My instinctive answer is “no”; obviously, having a lot of bad stuff thrown into the platform does not make your platform more desirable. In fact, it makes your platform’s credibility decrease; after watching a lot of Netflix Original Movies, I am now only interested when I recognize the talent behind the content (like the Coen Brothers or Alfonso Cuaron), because any other movie (“Cargo”, “Calibre”, “The Polka King”, just to name a few) seems to be a low-budget poor attempt at making something worthwhile, but end up being a complete waste of time. Furthermore, it has the very possible effect of over-populating the platform and having a lot of good stuff lost in a sea of releases; just in January 2018, there were 13 original shows/movies/documentaries premiering and that excludes any shows that had new seasons released during that month or non-original content from other studios. This is not to say that Netflix has a hurtfully excessive library of content (that’s a discussion for another time) or to suggest that 13 original and distinct shows are too much (considering that within those releases was a niche anime show, a documentary series, and a comedy biopic of National Lampoon); their purpose is to add variety and attract as many subscribers (and potential ones) to the lineup offered for the month. However, when that lineup mostly includes terrible programs it discourages from exploring that lineup, and makes jumping into something that seems interesting feel like an unnecessary waste of time.
But, that’s simplifying things too much; obviously, the very successful executives who made Netflix into a multi-billion dollar company understand this. So, why does this keep happening? On the one hand, it’s simply too vague to curate content so as to not include “crappy stuff”; the line is very thin, but beyond that, how do you know if something is crappy? I don’t like “Friends”, so if I was a curator or someone given the power to green-light the production of a show, I would have not given permission to make that show; but, I would be horribly wrong to do so. Beyond curating though, subscription-based platforms also need a bit of chaos to keep the customer interested; if Netflix only released great dramas or great comedies, then the lineup would get stale after a while–not to mention the long production times and budgets associated with such ambitious projects, with zero added certainty of the product’s quality or success. They need to be risky, or at least seem like they are taking risks, because risky attempts are exciting; they are also unpredictable in terms of the product’s end quality. Take “Open House” as an example: It is a great ‘pitch movie’, not only because of its inherently creepy idea of strangers walking into people’s houses and messing with them during open house events, but also because it is a low-budget idea that can be easily marketed and promoted. Furthermore, as it is, it is only a few tweaks away from being an ‘okay’ horror movie (emphasizing more the themes of grief and dealing with loss, make the absurd and unintentionally hilarious red herrings be more meaningful, make the setting feel more isolated, use more extras and show more of the events to add to the paranoia that the viewer should be experiencing, etc.), which would then make it another ‘okay’ way to spend time in the platform; not everything needs to be “House of Cards” level of good, sometimes you need something like “The Fix”, which is mediocre and does not require your complete attention or full commitment to it.
All of this though, is assuming that Netflix bought these movies from other studios (which is what they were seemingly doing so far); but, as Netflix starts moving into movie productions—where they are pitched a movie idea and then allocate funds to producers and staff to make it happen, with a deadline for the delivery of the product—things will only get more complicated: Do you only trust big names that demand big budgets and long production schedules, because that’s the only route that has benefited you so far; do you give chances to up-and-coming indie artists who require less time and investment, and if so, how do you know which ones to fund and which ones to reject?
Most likely, it is going to be a mixture of the two, but I do think that the question which will be harder to answer during the current craze of “live-services” subscriptions and platforms is: Is there such a thing as too much content, especially when some of that is bad? Do movies like Open House offer variety and a genuine attempt at something worthwhile, or was it a cheap asset to add to a month of no ‘high-profile’ releases, which distracts from the good stuff and creates distrust for the future?
P.S. I know I haven’t said much about Open House and that’s because there isn’t much to tell that I haven’t said already; it’s freaking awful. A sometimes unintentionally funny, continuously baffling and boring, confused horror movie with bad acting, directing, writing, editing, where the only ‘good’ that comes out of it is the fact that it eventually ends and you saying “good riddance!” when it finally does!