Directed by George Ratliff
The internet has gifted horror fans many things including numerous forums, dedicated streaming services and many great review sites (like this one). Along with the premise for a whole host of movies – a few of which have been pretty darn good. Some of them, like Bad Match, have riffed on dating sites, whilst others like Friend Request have done social media. Now, director George Ratliff takes on diy hospitality giant AirBnB, with a cautionary tale about being careful where you stay.
The apartment isn’t the usual noisy squalor, with thin walls and ugly stains, but a picturesque villa in the rolling Italian countryside. Our attractive young guests, Bryan (Paul) and Cassie (Ratajkowski), have gone to work on their tans and, more pressingly, their marriage. Recently he’d unexpectedly come home to find her having a roll on the staircase with another man and things haven’t been the same since. Perhaps unadvisedly, given he can’t so much as hold her without seeing her sexual misdeed in his head, he’s planning on using this trip to pop the question. Cue a relatively pedestrian romantic drama that gets awkwardly fused with a pedestrian stalker movie, when charming but obviously creepy Federico (Scamarcio) enters their life. After he comes to Cassie’s help, when she trips over when running, Bryan starts to view him as a love rival who is intent on seducing his partner. Not least because he unambiguously flirts with her in front of him, and has his annoying knack of showing up whenever he’s not around to cook rabbit. If only that’s all he was…
The thing is, that this bunny fryer is obviously more than a mere cad. The audience know early on that the couple are being watched on hidden cameras dotted all over the house. Hence it doesn’t take much to link this to the only other person with more than a minute of screen-time: a mystery of Scooby Doo proportions. To be fair, you could argue that this isn’t necessarily addressing the irrational side of jealousy, given sometimes suspicions on other’s intentions can be justified. Moreover, Cassie seems more trusting than indulging of her new more-than friend. Still, it does mean we have a mystery with no mystery and a drama about paranoia when it’s obviously not just paranoia. Sometimes a sense of inevitability can really boost a film. Like how The Witch used audience’s knowledge Thomasin isn’t a witch to make wondering if her puritan family will kill her anyway near unbearable in a good way. In contrast, the Welcome Home uses the audience, and Bryan’s, knowledge Federico is a creep to make it near unbearable in a bad way. Without much to any of the characters (Cassie in particular, who’s defined by infidelity and constant showers), reducing the impact of the relationshipy bits, you’re waiting almost an hour for the film to finally reach act three.
When we get there, the result isn’t bad per se. But it’s underwhelming. Movies like this work best with a steady escalation of threat that builds to a crescendo. And it definitely goes up a notch, although the tension with Federico reaches a natural conclusion on a plot point so contrived, and absurd, as to be unintentionally funny (you’ll know if it you see it). It’s almost like writer David Levinson recognises this failing, so attempts to introduce a twist on the threat late on. However, the absurdity of the situation, with the scene resting on characters withholding information they don’t need to, undermines it somewhat. More annoyingly, the last few minutes contain a character moment that’s genuinely really interesting, and a last shot that hints at what could have been a much better, fresher film. Sadly, the promising denouement suggests Welcome Home could have been a remarkable film were it all injected with such imagination.
Levinson isn’t the only one who appears to do himself a disservice. Ratliff has a solid visual sense, and can certainly stage a scene even if the lack of dramatic stakes, and the film’s ultimate predictability, detract from it. Aaron Paul, who presumably got many offers since *tee hee* breaking on to the scene, is also wasted here with little to get his teeth into – likewise with Emily Ratajkowski. But it’s Riccardo Scamarcio who is most underused, with minimal layers or motivation to his part. He’s either charming in a creepy way or creepy in a charming way depending which co-star he shares the screen with. Still, the ninety minutes go past relatively quickly, meaning like a good guest it doesn’t overstay its welcome. But I doubt much of the audience will be leaving positive feedback.