Home Sick: Special Edition Review
The FilmSix years in the making, Adam Wingard’s directorial feature-length debut Home Sick toured the festival circuit in several guises before finally seeing completion in 2007, where it premiered to an excited Fantasia Film Festival audience. In the run up to its showing the guys at Synapse Films partnered up with Wingard to executive produce, whilst re-envisioning his work with new editing and improved mastering techniques. Clearly it’s a film which has had a lot of love poured into it. Unfortunately that devotion is ultimately overshadowed by a case of severe blandness.
It all starts off promisingly enough, with a premise that feels genuinely intuitive. On a Christmassy Alabama night a mysterious figure referred to only as Mr. Suitcase (an excitable Bill Moseley), worms his way into a house filled with several party members before opening up a briefcase containing hundreds of razor blades. Taking an inebriated Candice (Tiffany Shepis) hostage he asks each shocked onlooker only one thing: to name someone who they personally hate. With a begrudging answer from each he then carves a mark into his arm before vanishing forever in a fit of utter glee. With simpleton Tim (Matt Lero) having burst out in a confused and non-deliberate state that he hates everyone in the room the stage is set for local carnage.
Sadly from this point onward Home Sick degenerates into a confusing and unfocused mess that’s nothing more than a technical showcase for Jonathan Thornton. In terms of bloodletting it proves to be a effective stage with which to display the make-up designer’s merry gore effects. Not everything works to a tee in complementing the action: there are several irritating fade-outs which kills tension, exaggerated sound effects and the incessant need to have characters laugh hysterically at random intervals, but some decent editing leaves a somewhat polished feeling for the hard work that’s evidently been put into realising the kind of depravity that audiences are paying to see. Wingard’s picture, then, certainly delivers the goods in that respect and there’s enough confidence about it, despite some awkward compositions and an overall indistinct style, but frankly it’s not enough to overcome a terrible script and the lack of experience in directing his actors more fittingly.
I would argue that any good survival horror must at least have one or two likeable characters that we can root for if any kind of threat is to successfully work; it isn’t essential to have them fully fleshed out, but it helps to have a certain give and take. In the case of Home Sick every one of writer/producer E.L. Katz’s creations are simply detestable human beings, right down to the incredibly uncharismatic leads of Forrest Pitts and Lindley Evans, the latter of whom we should in all likelihood be supporting. Sadly the actress is given nothing to work with here and the relationship she shares with her male co-star - whose character often talks to her like dirt - is handled in an entirely superfluous manner. Most of the players involved, however, are pathetic drug abusers, half of which are then used to fuel a side-story involving comedy crack-heads seeking revenge. As characters go from one location to the next they spout some dreadful expository material - the worst offending honour going to the roles of Matt Lero and Brandon Carroll, who at least try their best in adding some dark silliness to the mix. But Wingard just can’t help overindulge himself in several areas; his habit of drawing out mundane dialogue and having a lingering camera lens between gory encounters forces some severe pacing issues, while his final act is riddled with problems. Taking further pains to provide a little bizzare humour for instance, it simply becomes too much to take. There’s a truly awful sequence at Uncle Tommy’s (Tom Towles) house, which goes from dull chilli conversation to an embarassingly overlong set-piece involving screeching idiot rednecks brandishing firearms, while a loose social commentary (I presume) on gun control and police procedural methods creeps in.
All of this fannying about interim, however, means that the initially intriguing storyline’s potential is practically thrown out of the window and plot holes set in. Why for instance does the killer target victims not on the original list, such as Candice’s mother? (which incidentally is addressed during the audio commentary), and just what the hell is the out-of-place supernatural and monster elements at the end all about anyway? Add to that ZOMBI’s tired, repetitive scoring and we’re left with a film that’s not so much atmospheric and suspenseful, but an incoherent and instantly forgettable indie effort that does the already dwindling U.S. horror scene absolutely no favours whatsoever.
Home Sick is presented in non-anamorphic 1.85:1 on a region-free disc. Unusual is the heavy amount of ringing on display. Synapse usually knows better than to tinker with edge enhancement, so I’m presuming that it’s something to do with the original source, adding that there is a yellow tinge around edges. It’s also a fairly soft image, with a small amount of aliasing present. It’s clear, however, that it’s a DV production that’s undergone a bit of a face lift, with heightened grain, colour and contrast manipulation.
Post edit: We learn during the commentary that the film was totally ruined during post colour correction, subsequently giving it a distinct yellow look, which the guys at Synapse worked hard to fix.
The Dolby Digital Surround track is a little uneven. Emphasis lies squarely on heightening the ridiculous sound effects, while dialogue comes across too low at times. It does the job, but it seems that there was only so much Synapse could do with the original soundtrack.
The main feature is an ‘Audio Commentary with Adam Wingard and E.L. Katz’. Both speakers, despite giving a few pauses for thought, give away an awful lot of production detail, citing Italian influences and covering plenty of ground with regards to their early intents and how various bits and pieces eventually came together. There’s plenty of actor talk, along with more than a few anecdotes, and the pair pretty much constantly joke and laugh all the way through, which certainly lends a lively vibe to proceedings. Perhaps the most refreshing thing is the honesty of the speakers, who admit to losing their way at some point, which made for a totally fucked up feature.
The ‘Deleted Opening Sequence’ (7.43) sure is a turn up for the books. No sooner do I sit here berating the film for lacking character insight that I come across this original opening sequence that actually attempts such a feat. Granted it’s brief, but it at least makes some effort into creating a form of context to work from. Claire is made out to be a struggling artist who has come back to Alabama for a few days, while her boyfriend Mark isn’t quite so much of an annoying sod. The pair meet up with Mark’s friend Robert and everything seems pleasantly natural. It makes me think that had Wingard decided to use this intro, as he evidently should have, and reworked some later dialogue to finely tune his characters a little, then this could have been more promising.
The ‘Bill Moseley Interview Segment’ (5.31) sees the actor discuss his main role; in fact he looks quite deeply into his character, at one point even making an interesting comment that Mr. Suitcase seems to thrive off of hatred. This might have been a decent angle to work from, but unfortunately it doesn’t come across anywhere near as crystal in the actual film. He talks about preparing for the role, before we settle down to some behind-the-scenes shenanigans.
‘In a Room Where Darkness Counts Featurette’ (12.30) is total bollocks! Adam Wingard rambles profusely in a highly agitated state; it’s like he’s on a tremendous caffeine high, or perhaps drugs. Twitchy, tense and somewhat nervous he bangs on about meeting Bill Moseley, while offering some very dubious advice on film making. He immediately defends his film by saying that all we want to see is bodies being torn apart (true to some degree), and informs how ‘Slasher’ films should work, and then continues rambling. In all honesty I tuned out by the fourth minute, struggling to keep up with his tedious manner of talking. And as for closing the piece he couldn’t be any more obnoxious. Dare I say he doesn’t come across here in a good light at all, while in contrast his composure during the audio commentary is far more sedate and accessible. Very curious.
We have three short films, each directed by Wingard. The Girlfriend (31.52) is a horror about a girl who turns out to be a killer. Wingard tried his utmost to create a foreboding atmosphere, but his reliance on repetitive extreme close-ups and a meandering narrative draws it out far beyond its welcome. Clocking in much less is Thousand Year Sleep (6.33), which tells the story of a couple of lesbians and a lonely girl who are targeted by a killer. It features a monotonous narration, which is as good a reason as any to turn it off. Finally we have Laura Panic (3.10) and of the three it’s certainly the best one. It’s a short tale about a stalker girl, but Hannah Hughes delivers a neat little monologue in rationalising her behaviour.
OverallHonestly, I’m being fair here. Home Sick is pretty bad. While it certainly deserves some praise with regards to its special effects and promising ideas it’s just about a failure in every other respect. If anything though it should prove to be a learning experience for Adam Wingard, who shows some potential. In fact I’m very much interested in seeing his latest feature Pop Skull, which seems to be generating some positive word of mouth.
3 out of 10
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6 out of 10
6 out of 10
Last updated: 18/04/2018 22:30:40