[My thanks to regular ScreenAnarchy reader Alain Chouinard for this review of Christopher Denham's Home Movie. Caught this one with the lady-friend whilst in Montreal and it absolutely freaked her out ...]
As a twisted dark comedy/drama shot as a home movie in the vein of recent “reality” horror films like [REC], Home Movie explores the gradual destruction of the Poe family as it is confronted with the extreme ruthlessness of its two ten-year-old children, Jack and Emily (Austin and Amber Williams). Faced with this inexplicable evil as well, psychologist Clare (Cady McClain) and Lutheran minister David (Adrian Pasdar) helplessly document the irrational chaos produced by their children with their video camera while simultaneously attempting to contain and define it with the tools of their trade: religion and psychotherapy.
Expertly written and acted, Home Movie slowly develops the requisite tension for the original portrayal of the darker elements lying beneath the glorified image of the North American nuclear family and, particularly, its children that the Poe family desperately seeks to preserve, at considerable cost, through the fanciful medium of the “home movie”. Acting as a form of self-therapy meant to soothe their parental guilt, this medium, likewise, functions as a means for David, in particular, to keep the familial ideal alive and its comfortable and utopian sense of unity regardless of the relentless obstructions to this ideal and its illusionistic function as a center to order the lives of most North American families.
As a formal device, the film’s “home movie” approach directly immerses the viewer into the narrative’s increasingly tense atmosphere and creates an empathic, but still detached connection to the parental efforts of Clare and David until the film severs this close link by introducing an entirely different perspective during its final moments.
Although some spectators may grow impatient with Home Movie’s slowly developing narrative, the screenplay’s dark wit, strong performances by McClain and Pasdar as the Poe family’s concerned parents, and the film’s grotesque conclusion ultimately reward more attentive viewers as the film leaves them with a palpable sense of dread and uncertainty.
During the film’s extensive Q & A, American writer/director Christopher Denham, who had just arrived for the film’s second screening at the Fantasia Film Festival, spoke of how living near a child, who inexplicably committed murder, had influenced this rather unsettling tale of parental futility. He also briefly commented upon the deification of the child in modern society and the potential for violence to emerge in the most unexpected areas regardless of the precautionary measures, skills, or the sincere kindness of parents, all of which complement the film’s more serious thematic concerns. Nevertheless, these explicit comments, while enlightening, were unnecessary because the film itself, with its excellent cast and its adept manipulation of the video medium in the narrative, had already foregrounded this disturbing conclusion in this viewer’s mind. Ultimately, Home Movie proves to be a very successful first feature for Denham and, hopefully, it will receive the distribution that it deserves.
Review by Alain Chouinard