A striking handling of tone and menace makes this familiar subgenre feel decidedly unfamiliar.
Synopsis: Holly’s excited to finally meet fiancé Richard’s three children for the first time at a birthday celebration for his youngest in the English countryside. Holly is nervous to make a good impression, however when they arrive circumstances are far from ideal.
As a feature debut for director/writer Sebastian Godwin, Homebound is an incredibly interesting piece of work. From the outset, discordant notes underscore our focal couple Holly (Aisling Loftus) and Richard (Tom Goodman-Hill) as they drive to the house, but delivers no punchline in the form of a jump scare or other relief. Instead, this early sense of something being ‘off’ sustains the entire film, casting glances at every character alternatively. The effect is especially unnerving and frequently uncomfortable.
The premise itself is well-worn, with Holly desperate to make a good impression on Richard’s children, while she makes several, not entirely happy discoveries about him. Richard is almost impossibly permissive, allowing Lucia (Hattie Gotobed) and Ralph (Lukas Rolfe) to drink alcohol, partake in some farm-to-table service and indulges in numerous PDAs with Holly that she is clearly uncomfortable with. On the other hand, he is given to sudden bursts of discipline and a need for structure. Tim Goodman-Hill does well to straddle Richard’s extremes, fearsome enough that his anger feels like a threat but normal enough that his behaviour can be written off as the effects of stress and pressure. Aisling Loftus is excellent as Holly, who occasionally has little to do other than express wide-eyed wonder and quiet embarrassment at Richard and his family. The younger actors make for great additions, with Raffiella Chapman’s Anna pitched as a more solitary figure, outside the close communication between Lucia and Ralph.
Keeping the cast minimal and confined to one setting allows the film to toy with the viewer’s perception of events. Despite the film’s relatively short runtime, there is plenty of time dedicated to creating the atmosphere and existing in the same space as the characters. The camera finds itself close, often too close to them, able to catch even the smallest look that might alter the meaning or intent. That time spent in the house also means there is a strong sense of space created, with the feeling that you are learning the layout of the house as the film progresses.
With the careful effort and care put into establishing the tone of Homebound it would be a shame to delve too much into the plot and moving parts. This is minimalistic, for the most part, but its success lies in its ability to merge the benign and sinister, constantly building and reflecting on itself to create a layered, disturbing portrait of the family. Ultimately, this tone layering does create a dilemma for the film as it progresses, making it difficult to produce a truly satisfying conclusion. Still, the journey is worth taking, with plenty of uncomfortable moments and a sense of menace that holds strong throughout.
A stripped back, disturbing and intimate portrait of a family in flux that handles its material with a disquieting playfulness – I can’t remember the last time I saw something that presented such a strange vibe so well.
3.5 out of 5 stars
Homebound screened as part of Fantastic Fest 2021. See the schedule for more information.