Home Movie is the video document of one family's descent into darkness by their own hand. It uses a compilation of found home-made footage, a lot of it around holidays, a time meant for family togetherness. In the remote woods, the Poe Family lives a idyllic American family life. But an unsettling evil is growing and it isn't in the woods. Something is very wrong with ten-year old twins, Jack and Emily Poe. Evil is has a synergy David and Clare Poe make many startling discoveries about this growing evil nature in their children. No one could ever imagine or accept the evil growing inside the Poe household. It is an unbelievable nightmare pitting parents against their own children.
It's a case of nurture versus nature. Each parent tries to help their children the best way they know how. David Poe is a Lutheran pastor so he uses faith and prayer. Clare Poe is a psychiatrist so she uses counseling. I wonder how convicted each of the parents were. There is one scene in the film where David is preparing a sermon and he shows a weariness with his flocks' devotion and Clare is clinical and by the books, hardly emotional with her kids. Then the situation deteriorates and they resort to more extreme measures. David attempts an exorcism and Clare resorts to medicating her children. But is it too little too late? Home Movie certainly sends out a message about a more hands approach to parenting. In the final act as the children begin to take over Clare finally threatens physical violence on the children and the crowd cheered. Not one to encourage that I couldn't help but agree. The parents were far too permissive. But too little too late and in this instance regret is all they had left. Some families cannot be saved. Some children, despite any and all efforts, are inherently evil. No amount of punishment or reasoning seems to work on Emily and Jack.
I liked the Oni masks the children wear in one of the final scenes: Oni are Japanese demons. Does this signify ultimately that the children are demons if not possessed? I cannot help but also think of this scene as a nod to the Japanese Ju-on films. Emily and Jack are wearing the masks and the top of the stairs, then they trudge down the stair very slowly, after their mother. First, the stairwell reminded me of the stairwell in the home in the Ju-on film. Second, Emily and Jack take there sweet time coming down the stairs and it is very clunky and rigid like Kayako came down, except by her hands. Intentional or not it is still creepy.
In the end though I didn't find the movie that scary or disturbing. I've been trying to figure out why over the past few days since it screened at the festival and I think I have to boil it down to the lost-footage technique used when making this film. Ultimately, this format didn't engaged me like it was intended to. Instead, I found I could keep my distance from the Poe family. This format starts with the viewer as far away as possible and trusts that we can immerse ourselves in it as the story progresses. Here I was merely an observer rather than a participant in the film. And since I wasn't attached to the film I wasn't emotionally involved with it.
I know there is a temptation when shooting a film to use sound and music to create mood. Shooting this documentary style Denham willfully limits a lot of opportunities to use music and sound as part of the evocation of emotion. If he chose to shoot this story as a narration rather than a documentation it may have made it even harder for Denham to resist the urge to use sound. Khudos to him for that. But the absence of sound was intended to be just as effective if we watched a film with a lot of strings and sounds effects. A lot of the stunts and thrills that Denham uses in the film are intended to be really scary and they are well executed.
But his film just didn't have me. Home Movie's success depends on how quickly you can accept the Poe's world and attach yourselves to them and their plight. It didn't grab me. It didn't even tap me on the shoulder and say boo.