AVAILABLE ON REGION 1 DVD AND VOD: 7th July, from UNCORK’D ENTERTAINMENT
RUNNING TIME: 76 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera
Recently married Michelle is a shy interior designer who finds it hard to be confrontational. One day she meets Linda, a lonely, older-by-about-ten-years woman who seems to spend most of her time in exercise classes. Michelle is a bit reluctant at being friends with Linda, but nonetheless Linda persuades Michelle to take a look at her self-confessed dump of a house which she wants redesigning. Unfortunately the deluded and jealous Linda doesn’t seem to want Michelle to leave….
I’m probably proving what an old fuddy-duddy I am by saying this, but chief among my dislikes of the modern world is the obsession some people have with constantly texting when with other people; I get that there’s sometimes a neccessity to reply to someone, and I guess it’s not quite so irritating when in a group [though only today I passed by a group of six or seven teenagers in the park and every single one of them was hypnotised by the power of their phone, which makes me wonder why they were all out together in the first place], but if it’s just me and somebody else, and we’re in a restaurant, or in a pub, or somewhere similar, I personally find it to be the height of rudeness when the person I’m with keeps checking their phone [obviously once or twice isn’t a big deal]. And, being the movie freak that I am, and putting to one side the rows I’ve had with tech-addicted zombies in cinemas who can’t tear themselves away from social media for more than a minute, I especially hate it when I’m watching a movie with someone, even at home – hell, I very rarely check my own phone if I’m watching a film when I’m on my own. So, when one character in a film I’m viewing says to another character whilst they are supposed to be watching a film, “You’re not one of those people who constantly checks their phone during the movie are you”, and , “What is it with your generation and checking your phone”, not just said character has my sympathy but also the people who wrote and directed the thing, which on the surface seems like a story we’ve seen told quite a few times.
But then Homewrecker seems to make quite a bit of commentary about our age, such as the way its two lead characters [actually the only two characters except for some neighbours and somebody turning up towards the end] appear to represent widely differing gender roles which many women still seem to be persuaded into. But don’t be mistaken for thinking that this film is crammed full of feminist messaging [a favourite thing of current cinema]; it’s there, but it never takes over what is a deliciously ripe character drama with an increasingly dark and darkly amusing edge, featuring two quite stunning performances that bring amazing life to what are both essentially archetypes – and they need to be archetypes for both the story and the subtext to work. In fact Precious Chong and Alex Essoe, two actresses I’d not encountered before but who I’m going to look out for in future – co-wrote the script with director Zach Gayne, and I got a sense of their two characters being built up and being altered more and more, perhaps even during shooting. Certain lines even seem ad-libed even if they may not have been. Despite being dialogue heavy the film moves along at a fast pace, though if there’s one thing that irritated me, it was the 76-minute running time. Obviously a film’s length shouldn’t be an issue if it’s really good, and far too many movies these days are far too long, but this one seems to get to a final act which is then abruptly cut short. Of course if this was for budgetary reasons then one shouldn’t really whinge. I could have also done with one or two more scenes of Michelle encountering Linda in various places before Linda invites her to her room, but then some of that might have been to do with the fact that Chong and Essoe are so incredibly good as these two people – both individually and in terms of chemistry with each other – and the dialogue that they speak seems so natural, that I would have been happy just to have them chat away for ages while little actually happens!
Odd images of someone taking a bath [which are actually a flash forward to something that happens much later] accompanied by distorted electric guitar licks become shots inside an exercise room while chirpy pop music plays. Michelle and Linda are sometimes visually linked before they even speak to each other, something which first happens when Michelle realises that it’s her ‘time of the month’ and has no tampons on her. She asks the others if they have one, but only Linda does, even though she also says, a few seconds before conveniently producing the required article, “sorry, that shit sailed for me”. I guess that Michelle is so much in need that she doesn’t notice. We then see her in the library working on her laptop – except that, importantly, she keeps being distracted by texting her husband Robert. “Fancy meeting you here” says Linda as she sees Michelle and plonks herself right down next to her. Essoe’s acting is especially good here; her expressions indicate her irritation and discomfort, but aren’t over the top as is often the case in scenes like this. “I love this place”, proclaims Linda, who fails to pick up on the meaning of Michelle’s reply, “Yeah, it’s a great place to get work done”. Indeed no more work is done as Michelle is soon in Linda’s car heading for Linda’s house. Is it convincing that someone would get in a vehicle with a complete stranger who already seems a bit needy? Not everyone would, but Michelle, who just hates to say what’s on her mind [at least in person], and who probably expects to just have an hour or so round Linda’s house and then get out of there, might. During the car ride we learn a little about Linda, and a bit more about Michelle, though the latter is largely because Linda probes and seems to have an ability to get people she hardly knows to tell intimate details. Linda seems to have a history of being hurt by guys and now has no need of them any more, while Michelle’s marriage has tension because of the issue of children.
I may not have made all this sound as interesting as it actually is, but I reckon many will be hooked, especially with all the little nuances that make themselves often subtly known. Once inside her home, Linda makes an increasingly worse impression with things like saying that she refuses to put curtains up as a sort of “power struggle with the neighbours”, insisting very heavily that Michelle drinks a cocktail, and that great big hammer hanging on the wall. We do begin to feel sorry for the very lonely Linda, even when her causing Michelle to drop and shatter a glass seems orchestrated to make Michelle feel guilty, but then she knocks her out, and Michelle wakes up in locked in a room with a sore head and the realisation that she’s being held prisoner. What follows is a series of games which are both psychological and physical. The latter are more comical than anything else, but then this is also a film laced with obvious comedic elements which never lets us forget its farcical aspect, and which even has some laugh out loud moments which often juxtapose the mundane with the horrible in a way Alfred Hitchcock would have loved. There is eventually some bloody violence, one bit being a good example of how just showing the aftermath of something can work well. The camera pans away from the horrible act so that we’re not sure what exactly is being done, before panning back to reveal a truly awful sight. However, it’s the verbal interactions which are where the film truly soars, most of them partly due to a device which is a pure stroke of genius even if one may wonder where Linda may have got such a thing – a drug that causes a person to tell the truth. Therefore, while Linda can be evasive and possibly even lying, Michelle, a person who probably often keeps her feelings to herself, can’t help but be open and honest with everything she says. Ironically though, Linda gets some home truths about herself from Michelle which she doesn’t enjoy hearing.
The film does seem to close with the promise of more to come not being fulfilled, though the way one character’s line is cut off before it’s finished slightly hints at a very sordid element to a back story which is gradually revealed throughout the final third but which we are certainly not getting the full picture of. Linda is clearly the villain, but one that’s been created by society, and therefore sympathetic. She’s clearly desperate for human contact and feels disconnected from our social media age where friendships are often carried out digitally rather than in person. A scene where she gets Michelle to play an ‘80s video/board game called ‘Party Hunks’ is so painful in a way, because we get a really poignant sense of lost dreams, and of being stuck in a past when such dreams were still possible. Meanwhile the younger Michelle, despite what I said earlier, isn’t really phone obsessed compared to a lot of people even if she would irritate me, but does seem to use this kind of communication as a form of protection, so is – in a way – also a victim of it. She’s, on the surface, the perfect meek and mild wife who wants to have a baby because that’s her role, while Michele is a typical old school spinster, probably considered ‘past it’ because of ageism as well as sexism, but both have been placed into these categories. Those used to my writing will probably know that I’m tired of the current movie obsession with feminism: I have nothing against the subject, but I don’t like being beaten over the head with the same messages over and over again, especially when it turns into misandry which is what is happening in some cases. But Homewrecker has these ideas to get into if you want to, which give it some depth, without ramming them down your throat.
The hand held cinematography is reasonably steady except for the fight scenes where it gets a bit wilder, though not as excessive as in some big Hollywood productions. You can still see what’s happening. Some split screen appears every now and again; sometimes it actually adds to the clarity of scenes when our two ladies are in different rooms, sometimes it’s distracting, though being an enormous fan of Brian De Palma I ought not to complain too much. This film is Zach Gayne’s directorial debut, and despite clearly being made on a small budget I think he’s made a small splash with it. It’s modest but seems somehow important. While there are times when I disagree with the prevailing majority, I have a feeling that many critics are in agreement with me here. Put it this way; I don’t think you’ll feel a need to check your phone while watching, even if you may feel the temptation to briefly pop onto the digital world and spend just a few seconds telling your best mate or the whole world how darn good this potentially not too promising film is.