Home Review [SXSW 2014]
According to Judy Garland’s Dorothy, there’s just no place like home. A wonderful sentiment, kept safe by family and familiarity – but there’s no way Dorothy would be spouting such nonsense if her home was haunted by the devil like in filmmaker Nicholas McCarthy’s latest, aptly titled Home. For anyone who is familiar with McCarthy’s previous film, The Pact, you’ll start to notice a trend in his style, focusing on paranormal haunted house lore. Sure, there’s a heavy-handed focus here on demonic possession, suggesting “home” may not be a building, but again Nicholas generates atmospheric tension while focusing on a central structure that’s housing a pulsing, malevolent force. Apparently the riskiest profession you can have in McCarthy’s horror universe is working in reality – you’d be better off testing jetpacks made from duct tape and oscillating fans.
Catalina Sandino Moreno plays Leigh, an eager real estate agent asked to sell a house with a dark history – something she doesn’t think twice about. While walking around the now vacant property, she meets a young girl thought to be the runaway daughter of the couple currently selling, but she quickly finds out that’s far from true. Getting sucked deeper into the girl’s mysterious nature, Leigh and her sister Vera (Naya Rivera) start to suspect a darkness has come over their lives – and the strange girl is to blame. Can Leigh discover what’s looming over her like a black could while keeping Vera safe, or is this strange girl actually damning her existence for reasons unknown?
My initial reaction to Home was simple – a horror movie full of absolutely terrifying moments as Nicholas McCarthy once again uses spooky property to his advantage. I stand by that. McCarthy excels at relentless scares that are surprising enough to cause some major jumps and properly spaced to catch even seasoned viewers off guard. This guy is a jump-scare king, and I actually commend him for it. Characters begin convulsing after possession only mere minutes into the film, creating dread from square one that sets us up for an uncomfortably eerie watch, keeping audiences on their toes – but here’s where things get complicated.
Home contains many scares scattered throughout, but when we’re not acknowledging sleepless nights ahead, we’re desensitized by a confusing art-house story sporting no real connection or flow – just a bunch of reasons to scare us stupid. Don’t get me wrong, as a horror fan I can respect that, but Leigh’s battle with satanic possession heaps on question upon question without offering any informational relief, as supernatural horror relies heavily on campfire storytelling. Connecting the dots between a wad of cash, a street performer game, a crossroads, and Leigh’s unfortunate intervening provides more cranial trouble than it’s worth unfortunately, outshone by McCarthy’s peek-a-boo scare tactics.
It’s a shame, because McCarthy’s directorial vision is strong, and his scenes are always beautifully captured. His directorial prowess turns abandoned houses into nightmare creations, emphasizing wide, open atmospheres that still contain claustrophobic terror. He’s also the only man who can set up an obvious “baddie in the mirror” scare, not even attempt to hide it, and STILL cause my heart to skip a beat. I hate being so turned off by such a convoluted and minimalist story, because as a technical filmmaker I believe Nicholas McCarthy has so much to offer independent horror – but without meaningful, gripping plotting, such enticing satanic imagery doesn’t have a hoof to stand on.
It’s the same sad story for Catalina Sandino Moreno, Naya Rivera, and Ashley Rickards, as they navigate a relatively silent script requiring more reactions than development of personalities. Glee fans are going to be underwhelmed by Naya’s limited screen time, as Catalina is the main actress here and she does possess enough talent to guide us through each dimly lit room, terrifying embrace and spastic supernatural beating, but we’re once again drawn back to minimalist development worth absolutely no mind.
Home is a bone-chilling ghost story that I’d absolutely love to recommend, but once again I struggled to keep a constant connection to Nicholas McCarthy’s befuddling screenplay, packed with exciting ideas and bright moments of sheer terror – but nothing consistently worthwhile. A highlight real of Satan’s nastiest tricks would make for a dynamite promotional trailer, but unfortunately audiences would have the best moments spoiled for them by genius marketing. Home is all sizzle and no steak, forcing me to hold off my support of a Nicholas McCarthy movie until next time – which I’ll still happily anticipate.
Creepy, disturbing, but built on a weak foundation, Home is a segmented watch that sandwiches phenomenal scares between unfinished storytelling.