Thursday, June 3, 2010

Home Movie (2008)

Home video cameras offer families a chance to capture precious moments, whether it’s in the backyard, on vacations, during holidays or just everyday life. Home videos are usually meant to capture the best of times, but sometimes they can also capture the worst. Usually this footage ends up on America’s Funniest Home Videos or, but what if home videos showed something truly disturbing, like every parent’s worst nightmare that their kids are not the sweet and innocent children they thought they were raising but instead sick and twisted little bastards? What if a family’s home videos revealed the extent of their children’s sadistic nature?

This is the basic premise of Home Movie, which uses “found footage” to document one family’s desperation as they watch their creepy kids commit unspeakable horrors, all through the lens of the family camcorder. I hadn’t heard anything about Home Movie before watching it and wasn’t expecting much, but it delivers a truly sinister and disturbing story.

The film shows us the Poe family, comprised of dad David, mom Clare, and siblings Jack and Emily. They’ve just moved to an isolated house in the country and also bought a brand spankin’ new video camera to record their adventures (well, according to David…Clare originally bought the camera for her psychology practice). They seem like a normal loving family…except their kids, twins Emily and Jack, are pretty creepy. They don’t say much and just stare into the video camera with empty expressions. And then there’s an instance where David gets hit with a baseball…which could be construed as an accident, until Jack starts throwing rocks (“Turn the camera off…He’s throwing rocks at me”). The kids’ bratty behavior begins to escalate and goes from petulant (throwing rocks, behaving badly at dinner) to downright shocking (crucifying the family pet on Christmas). Clare recommends counseling/medication and tapes her sessions with the troublesome twosome. She also begins to suspect that David is abusing them and causing them to lash out. However, David, a Lutheran minister, thinks the kids are possessed by evil spirits and believes an exorcism is in order. Through all this, the twins’ progressively violent and shocking behavior only seems to be getting worse…are they being abused? Are they possessed? Or are they just burgeoning sociopaths?

I am really surprised that this film hasn’t been given more attention, because it’s a fine flick. Writer/director Christopher Denham creates a chilling story and shocking visuals. The children are just creepy to begin with (kudos to child actors Amber Joy Williams and Austin Williams for their convincing performances), but Denham creates so much tension by giving us a voyeuristic view of the Poe household. We feel as if we are a fly on the wall while watching the horrific events unfold.

Also, Denham uses the home video footage wisely, so it appears realistic and believable (which is much harder than it looks). For example, the parents are always saying “shut that camera off!” when something bad happens. The footage that is shown comes off as very natural and is never forced. Every disturbing detail is captured and there are plenty of shocks throughout the film as well as a twisted ending. The story builds subtly, but the intensity levels keep rising with each new “incident” the family experiences. It takes a little patience to get through the first part of the film, but the tension keeps mounting and mounting until you just can’t look away.  I also enjoyed how the story explored many different explanations for the children’s behavior. Are they being abused? Are they demon possessed? Is something evil in the house influencing them? Are they just pure evil? These different possibilities kept me on my toes and on the edge of my seat.

Considering there were only four characters in the film and the action was always focused on them, the actors all did a phenomenal job. As mentioned previously, real-life siblings Amber Joy and Austin Williams did a very convincing job of portraying evil children. The film could have easily gone campy if they gave over the top performances, but they played it very subtly, which ended up making their characters VERY unsettling. Props must also be given to director Denham for really getting these stellar performances out of child actors. Adrian Pasdar and Cady McClain were equally brilliant as the befuddled parents. Their performances came off as very natural and completely believable. You could really feel their frustration, confusion and fear through their performances and couldn’t help but sympathize with them.

This is a rare independent film whose atmosphere and psychological terror deliver unrelenting dread, tension and suspense. Home Movie is an underrated film that deserves more attention from horror fans and is one of the best “found footage” or “faux documentary” indies to rock my world. You should definitely check it out…

Buy it on Amazon!

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