Modeled on a late-’80s/early-’90s American family sitcom — which soon transitions to a midnight splatterfest — the tongue-in-cheek Dutch production “Krazy House” has all the transgressive stylings of a 15 year-old’s Reddit post on an atheism forum in 2010. Directors Steffen Haars and Flip van der Kuil offer ideas of subversion that feel both long-outdated in concept and completely dull in execution, to the point that merely describing the film feels irresponsible, lest its premise accidentally lure curious viewers to the cinema.
Nick Frost plays Bernie Christian, the pointedly-named patriarch of a throwback family sitcom. With his zeal for Jesus sweaters and his living-room church organ, Bernie plays the bumbling househusband to his successful businesswoman wife Eva (Alicia Silverstone), and father to his diligent scientist son Adam (Walt Klink) and moody shut-in daughter Sarah (Gaite Jansen). The fictitious show comes complete with an opening musical theme and studio audience laughter, though its parody goes beyond the confines of this genre in ways that are, at least initially, intriguing.
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The football game Eva watches on TV is between the Yankee Saints and the Soviet Devils, a joke echoed when proceedings are disrupted by the arrival of a withered Russian gangster Pjotr (Jan Bijvoet) and his Adidas-tracksuit-wearing sons Dmitri (Chris Peters) and Igor (Matti Stooker), who offer to clean up after Bernie’s half-witted household mistakes. However, rather than fixing his broken kitchen sink, they begin tearing apart the house walls and introducing chaos and temptation bit by bit, through such vices as drugs, alcohol and even Dmitri’s sexual allure, which catches young Sarah’s eye. These Cold War-era fears of “reds” and degeneracy upset the consistent, reliable fabric of the family sitcom — as played out in unobtrusive medium shots. Bernie also begins to experience macabre visions, the aesthetic presentation of which departs from the show’s flatly-lit 4:3 aspect ratio, hinting at something darker (and bloodier) to come.
The problems, however, begin early on, when “Krazy House” lays its handful of jokes and observations on the table within its opening scenes. The in-world show isn’t very funny, leaving loads of dead air in between jokes despite its canned laughter — perhaps that lack of entertainment value is the point, but it’s awkward all the same. Furthermore, the arrival of the Russian “invaders” who upset the status quo is a development that runs out of steam rather quickly. There’s a reason the surreal Adult Swim parody “Too Many Cooks” was a mere 11 minutes long, because contrasting the sanitized reality of an American family sitcom with blood and gore is a joke that becomes self-evident rather quickly.
In “Krazy House,” this contrast takes a painfully long time to emerge. Hints at its arrival, via Bernie’s versions, don’t feel particularly rooted in his character either. The film contains loose threads — usually brief reaction shots that are quickly dropped — hinting at lingering insecurities within the American male psyche, but Bernie’s deep-seated violent impulses are more a factor of the movie’s genre experimentation. Based on little but the filmmakers’ intent, they emanate from nowhere in particular, let alone some place rooted in the movie’s specific cultural parody.
Eventually, when the film delves into the sex and violence swept under the rug by family comedies, it doesn’t feel pointed enough to be truly cruel or perverse. Any attempts at transgression are juvenile at best; at worst, they betray a lack of understanding of the very culture being lampooned. American sitcoms are a global export, so they’re fair game for filmmakers from all over the world, but to introduce visual gags like burning crosses and casual gun violence against civilians without considering the American context in which they exist — racist hate crimes and continued mass shootings — shows a fundamental incuriosity about the cultural images and symbols the filmmakers hope to deconstruct. Their observations are limited to the hypocrisies of organized religion in the broadest possible sense. Frost, for instance, was playing these exact satirical notes in his 2011 comedy “Paul,” but here, they end up so vague and overly familiar as to elicit a shrug.
“Krazy House” wants desperately to be perverse, but even its most charged visual and narrative ideas feel limp, as they attempt to shock for the sake of shock, but end up disturbing or upsetting to no one in particular. The film is a snooze, but its biggest betrayal is arguably to its own ensemble, who throw themselves into the deep end with the utmost emotional commitment to the gimmick. Unfortunately, their efforts end up for naught.
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