Christopher Denham's Home Movie is another effort to use digital video gear as an additional character in a psychological drama wherein people slowly lose their minds, one frame or globs of video at a time.
The trick here is we're seeing the camera being turned on/off, plus the occasional shuttling movement, and some slight of hand editing to snip away the dull parts and create a drama with momentum. The tempo and docu-style cinematographer works fairly well, even though some images are at times too cleanly composed; most of the characters tend to grab and plop the camera here and there, and one can argue it's too coincidental that the parents and kids share the same visual style.
The script by Denham (who also directed) already sets up the Poe family as a troubled group now living in the wild countryside, but we're never given much of a backstory except that father Poe (Adrian Pasdar, who also co-produced) is a priest, mom Poe is a child welfare or psych doctor, and the kids (real-life siblings Amber Joy and Austin Williams) are just kind of odd.
The progression of spunky, funny parents trying to motivate their otherwise morose kids is gradual, but the film ultimately runs into a handful of serious problems that make the finale near impossible to accept.
The chief problem stems from characterizations: the kids are little Omen brats whose increasing acts of tormenting and torturing pets (the frog gets vice-gripped, the cat is crucified, the dog beheaded, and the goldfish shoved into a sandwich) is shrugged off as merely odd; clearly their mother should recognize from her professional background that they need serious help, and the father's morality only once intervenes by having the son rake leaves for throwing a rock at his head.
Father Poe at one point also attempts an exorcism, but when that doesn't work, he continues to show the kids neat tricks – tying the ultimate knot, picking a lock – which we know will figure in the final act. The same goes when mother Poe uses her professional privileges to medicate her kids: she leaves it up to them to take the pills, and tells them exceeding the dosage renders one into an irreversible coma – which we know will come in handy in the final act.
Where things get tough is when it's clear the parents are total morons, and while that may have been deliberate on the part of Denham, it's hard to believe they still wouldn't be pissed when the cat's crucified. Even when their kids take a boy to their torture shack and attempt to suffocate him, the police nor Children's Aid remove the Poe children from their parents.
The fact the kids are allowed 'one last night' with their parents before they're taken away for examination is ridiculous, and it signals the film's final act will contain a lot of conveniently stupid behaviour.
The Poe adults make for a fun and playful couple, but the virtual lack of any lingering emotional responses (besides ephemeral shock) when they're confronted with animal deaths makes it impossible to believe mom and dad are no more than underwritten and underdeveloped characters.
McClain is semi-convincing as mother Poe, but it's also vague as to why she bought the video camera for 'work purposes.' It's not clear if she also deals with other kids, needs the camera for lectures, or is using her kids as some test group for an unspecified project (which may explain why she avoids bringing in any colleagues or a third party to intervene when the animal killings escalate).
As an audience, we're at the mercy of whatever edited material we're allowed to see, but there's also the problem of characters bringing the video camera along when they should clearly be doing something more important – like saving their lives.
When mother Poe manages to free herself in the final scene, she grabs the camera and goes back upstairs for a baseball bat instead of freeing her husband and getting the hell out of the house before the kids can return. It's a prime moment where the film's imaginary world shatters and becomes a weak B-movie because mother Poe's behavious isn't natural; it's what the director wanted in order to bring the kids back into the drama for a contrived finale.
It's also hard to tell whether director Denham is aiming for a Michael Hanneke*** style, taunting and denying audiences of genre conventions, but ultimately Home Movie falls flat on its face because of deeply idiotic characters who deserve their fates.
Anchor Bay's transfer of the digital production is very clean, and the directional sound mix and Ryan Shore's sparse source cues are fairly spooky. It also helps that the running time isn't indulgent at under eighty minutes.
The extras include a trailer and a making-of featurette that's a bit rich at times. Producer/Modern Cine owner Andrew van den Houten is a great pitchman – his company carefully produced the disturbing The Girl Next Door – but Home Movie is nowhere as deep and meaningful as he opines; one understands what the filmmakers were going for, but mere traces within the finished film just aren't sufficient.
Home Movie was a bit of a Modern Cine family project: writer/director Denham starred in van den Houten's Headspace, Austin Williams co-starred in The Girl Next Door, a film both scored by composer Shore and co-produced by cinematographer William M. Miller.
© 2009 Mark R. Hasan