Home Movie (2008)
Reviewed by Evil Andy
Starring Adrian Pasdar, Cady McClain, Austin William, Amber Joy Williams, Lucian Maisel
Directed by Christopher Denham
There’s something about home videos that brings out the worst in people. I hadn’t thought of it for years, but after seeing Christopher Denham’s disturbing Home Movie, I remembered my very own forays into family camcording.
It was around 1984, and after borrowing a HandiCam to film a friend’s wedding, my parents turned the camera on their kids. As my little brother did his best “Putting on the Ritz” dance, I repeatedly popped into frame to steal the show. My constant upstaging must have gotten on his six year old nerves, because the next thing you see is me getting cold cocked and the camera being hastily put down while my parents rush in to break up the sibling beat down. Ahhh, fun times. Where does the compulsion to capture these moments on film come from, and why does the presence of a camera turn people into monsters?
This is clearly a question Christopher Denham, director of Home Movie, has pondered at length. Home Movie is literally the holiday home videos of the Poe family, covering a period from Halloween through Easter. Things start off normally enough, with David Poe ("Heroes" Adrian Pasdar), a goofy, holiday-0obsessed Lutheran pastor, his loving wife and child psychologist Claire ("All My Children"’s Cady McClain), trying their best to raise their twins, Jack and Emily in their new country home. With each passing holiday, the children become more distant, more violent and eventually more deranged. This is the kind of slow burn, believable descent from childhood into insanity that Rob Zombie wished he had captured in his Halloween remake.
But don’t let yourself be turned off by comparisons, even to other cinema-verite, low-def, shot on the cheap, horror films. Home Movie is a cut above other recent faux-snuff entries like Last Horror Movie, August Underground, and in most respects is better written, more realistic and more disturbing than the forefather of the modern found footage horror movie, The Blair Witch Project. In fact, Home Movie might just be the tautest, best acted, most tightly written and disturbing “found film” ever made!
That’s not to say that it doesn’t suffer from the standard woes of the genre. The first fifteen minutes are a gut wrenching visual jostle that will have weaker stomachs ralfing in the aisles. The rationalization for why the characters continue to film themselves, especially towards the harrowing end of the film is stretched to the limit. And, finally, if you’re nitpicking, there are likely a couple plot points that don’t hold up to scrutiny (the parent’s never check their kids clubhouse!?)
Most of these criticisms don’t count for much while you’re watching the film though, since the writing and performances will draw you in and force you to care about the Poe family and their horrific slide into extreme family dysfunction. Adrian Pasdar turns in a scene stealing performance as a pastor who drinks too much and can’t compose a Christmas sermon to save his life, but has no problem dressing up as the Easter Bunny or Santa Clause and celebrating the commercial aspects of the holidays. Likewise, Cady McClain, in the role of the psychologist, is equally as conflicted, seemingly able to deal with any situation except the disintegration of her children’s minds. The dorky family moments caught on video result in genuine affection for the Poe family, which makes it all that much worse once you realize that for them, there is no escape.
Even if you’re burned out on found footage horror films, you owe it to yourself to watch Home Movie as an example of the heights the subgenre can aspire to. As Jack says to the camera, after taking up directorial reigns “I dare you to stare until our movie is done.” That’s one dare worth taking...
4 out of 5
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