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Fantastic Fest

‘Homewrecker’ Wobbles Under a Shaky Foundation

Fantastic Fest 2019

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Depicting a bizarro world where a shy interior designer defies logic by continually wading deeper into the life of an intense, saucer-eyed stranger’s life and home, Zach Gayne’s Homewrecker is both fascinating and clunky at the same time. At no point do the two women involved in what eventually becomes a buffoonish stalker-hostage scenario make decisions grounded in any sort of reality, yet their situation does make for some weirdly entertaining exchanges. Does the ensuing oddness amount to anything? Nope. But despite ultimately spiraling into utter nonsense, a key performance holds the film together even as the script falls apart.

Things start off overtly creepy enough, with middle-aged Linda (a laser-focused Precious Chong) staring holes through the younger Michelle (Alex Essoe) from across various gym rooms, as they coincidentally (?) happen to be enrolled at several of the same workout classes. Later, the two finally formally meet at a coffee shop; Michelle claims to be working on a design project but is actually coping with her latest failure to become pregnant, while Linda ignores all social conventions and invites herself to take a seat. Eventually the two get to awkwardly talking in a way that would be a social red flag to any actual human being, and Michelle unbelievably  accepts the alien-like Linda’s invitation to size up her house for a possible makeover.

Further hilariously bad judgment calls (though it’s hard to say from its tone whether Homewrecker is meant to be a laugh-out-loud comedy) wind up with Michelle drugged and a prisoner to crazy Linda, who keeps a menacing sledgehammer mounted on the wall as a reminder of her psychological breakthroughs. The gals chat through locked doors, clumsily wrestle in the hallways, explore relationship feelings over a board game, and generally behave like people who have no concept of how easy it would be just to break a window and leave.

Homewrecker game

It gets harder and harder to buy anything going on in Homewrecker as remotely plausible, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some fun to be had. First and foremost, Precious Chong absolutely kills it as Linda, a warped psycho frustrated by the passage of time and her lessening significance in the world. With an insanely cheerful facade masking serious insecurities beneath, Chong makes Linda unpredictable, seemingly on the verge of snapping any moment; it’s a performance that demands attention and gets it — surely this breakdown will be a good one. However, she also elicits real sympathy; sure, the overt bitterness, mental slips into a hunk-obsessed middle-school persona, and occasional violent rages don’t scream “feel sorry for me,” but a spiraling life has seriously screwed this person up. Linda just wants to be happy, to be loved, and who can’t relate to that?

By comparison, Michelle comes off as a bit of a mopey dud. Yes, she’s got her own problems, but at least she’s not single! At least she’s still young! And while Michelle wallows in wishy-washiness, Linda is actively trying to take control of her life. Which is more admirable? There are times when it seems like Homewrecker might almost embrace that point of view, but it eventually reverts to a safer tack, and becomes less interesting for it. Nevertheless, Linda remains perfectly watchable, and when the time comes, she does not disappoint.

It’s too bad then that the script and direction let her down. While Linda’s peculiarly probing conversational tactics are engaging, she’s denied a partner with equally intriguing responses. Michelle seems written more as a vehicle to get Linda from point A to Z rather than as a human capable of thinking, processing, and scheming in her own right; the relationship is one-sided. Nowhere is this on more on display than in the aforementioned board game scene, which takes a fantastic setup but only half-delivers the payoff.

Director Zach Gayne doesn’t help matters much with staging that doesn’t adequately communicate the space the characters are occupying (suddenly there’s a basement?), and choreography that’s sometimes borderline spoofy in its hamminess (a blow struck with an umbrella is just one of many questionable lapses in physical credibility). Maybe audiences are supposed to laugh at how improvisational parts of the fights seem, and it’s possible there’s some sort of poke here at a stereotypical Lifetime drama, but it’s hard to tell when those romps are followed by what seem like genuine attempts at emotional sincerity.

In many ways, Homewrecker just feels off, harder to pin down than a halfheartedly fleeing Michelle, teetering as often as Linda’s kooky sanity. The result is certainly a curiosity, but Homewrecker doesn’t build an a solid enough structure upon its intriguing foundation.

Fantastic Fest runs September 19 – September 26. Visit the official website for more information.

Patrick Murphy grew up in the hearty Midwest, where he spent many winter hours watching movies and playing video games while waiting for baseball season to start again. When not thinking of his next Nintendo post or writing screenplays to satisfy his film school training, he’s getting his cinema fix as the Editor of Sordid Cinema, Goomba Stomp's Film and TV section.

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