Homebound - New Release Review
Director: Sebastien Godwin
Starring: Aisling Loftus, Tom Goodman-Hill, Hattie Gotobed, Raffiella Chapman, Lukas Rolfe
Written by: Sebastien Godwin
Produced by: Hugo Godwin, Emma Parsons
Cinematography by: Sergi Vilanova
Original Score by: Jeremy Warmsley
A trip to the countryside turns out to be far from idyllic for a father and his new wife when his kids decide the house is a little too crowded.
More a psychological thriller than straight up horror, 'Homebound' doesn’t exactly offer up anything groundbreakingly original per say but it absolutely delivers on the creepy, uneasy atmosphere that lingers, almost unspoken, in the air during a problematic family reunion.
Richard and Holly have recently got married and have been invited by Nina (Richard’s ex-wife) to her idyllic countryside home to become acquainted with her and Richard’s three children, Anna, Lucia and Ralph. But when the couple arrive they soon find out that Nina is not at home and won’t be joining them. Holly, who's clearly extremely nervous admits “Always wondered what it’s like to be part of a proper family.” And here we lay the groundwork for what is to become a fairly prototypical ‘kids reluctantly meet stepmother’ scenario with a fair amount of vaguely mysterious intrigue that allows it to live on its own.
There’s an unquestionable intent to instil a sense of discomfort right from the outset as the film opens with a long car journey through the countryside (not too dissimilar to the opening of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining) with uncertain glances being shared between Richard and Holly. Accompanying this sequence is a bellowing musical score that reminded me of a slightly less emphatic version of Howard Shore’s work on 'The Lord of the Rings', specifically the choral pieces in 'The Two Towers'. In fact the entire score for the film is definitely one of the highlights. It’s full of creepy Danse Macabre-esque strings that really keep you on edge throughout. Aside from the score, another part of what makes 'Homebound' unsettling is the location. It’s an excessively large, country style house in the middle of nowhere with acres of surrounding land, that we really don’t get to explore enough to be honest. Empty corridors and eerily quiet staircases. Inside of the house is mostly always lit up by gloomy sconces or atmospheric candlelight. We’re not quite in gothic haunted house territory here but we’re not far off it. Obviously it’s very old and the family has some wealth. It’s almost like we’re about to watch some classic folk horror unfold before our eyes. But other than witnessing the strategic murder of one of the local geese for dinner, not much happens for quite a while.
Holly definitely seems a little younger than Richard and much of the horror in the film comes to surface in her awkward and honest acceptance that she really doesn’t belong here. Holly is not only an outsider to the family but also to how the family live, as evident with the aforementioned goose killing. It’s completely foreign to her and it’s the first time she shows any sign that maybe she doesn’t know Richard quite as well as she thought. There’s also a sense that one of the main themes of the film is to do with the struggle of power between the couple, which doesn’t make itself noticeable until things start to get out of hand. Although Richard dotes over his kids in the beginning he isn’t a very likeable character for me personally because of his sort of blasé approach to everything. Whereas Holly is quite polite and innocent, asking him questions about what they are doing and when they are leaving etc. There's subtle insinuations that Richard may have some kind of unhealthy control over Holly. He's constantly telling her that things will be okay and to "just relax" even when she is uncomfortable. A red flag of toxicity in most cases. And it turns out she doesn’t ask nearly enough questions and unfortunately she learns the hard way that Richard does have some abhorrent personality traits.
The body of the film deals with the inevitable tension between the kids (particularly Lucia who acts as a surrogate mother to Anna and Ralph) and Holly. Through no fault of her own Holly is immediately vilified by Lucia or at least that’s what we’re made to believe. The kids take things too far on two separate occasions which eventually leads to a physical, albeit accidental, altercation between Lucia and Holly. A chase and fight ensues shortly after and despite some wonky editing it's a super tense set up into the finale that ultimately, and frustratingly, leaves you hanging.
The cast are all great, especially Aisling Loftus as Holly and Hattie Gotobed as Lucia. Loftus is particularly captivating towards the end when her acting talent is challenged the most. Perhaps the film would have benefited with a little more character development but at only 67 minutes runtime (excluding credits) 'Homebound' is a pretty tight little atmospheric thriller from a first time writer/director (Sebastien Godwin) that I’d be eager to seek out in the future. It’s a little bit like if a young Ben Wheatley watched a few episodes of 'The Haunting of Bly Manor' on repeat then spontaneously decided to go out and make a film with a small cast.
- Gavin Logan
'Homebound' is in cinemas 1 April and on digital 4 April from Blue Finch Film Releasing