Rating: 3 out of 5.

As our first film watched from 2021’s Fantastic Fest selections, Homebound is a delightfully strange, masterfully-scored slice of thriller heaven. A simplistic setup is yet another shining example that pared-down, intimate, character-driven horror can reap the tastiest results. Holly (Aisling Loftus) and Richard (Tom Goodman-Hill) are headed to the idyllic mansion of Richard’s ex-wife, located far out at a quiet spot in the English countryside. Richard’s three children have yet to meet Holly, and what better occasion than to celebrate the birthday of Anna (Raffiella Chapman), the youngest. Upon arriving, it becomes painfully clear to Holly that the relationship the three children have with their father is off-putting and intense. Facing increasing aggression from the kids and with the ex-wife’s absence looming large, Holly starts second-guessing her decision to make the trip out there in the first place…

The element of mystery casts a dark cloud over every tense moment spent in the house. All Holly wants to do is have an innocent bonding experience, starting with bestowing a gift upon Anna. Ralph (Lukas Rolfe) and Lucia (Hattie Gotobed) are confrontational towards Holly from the jump. The strange behavior of the kids gave me a vibe of The Turning; in that film, the problem child does everything in his power to push away our heroine. Here, Ralph practically drowns Holly in the pool while “playing,” and in another scene, Holly witnesses Anna burying one of her dolls she calls Jemima deep down into the dirt. How long can one simply “play along” with twisted games before it becomes an issue?

Loftus does a terrific job with juggling paranoia with genuine concern, causing Holly to become an endearing character audiences can root for. On the flip side, Richard is frustratingly sketched. However, I am sure this was done purposefully as a means to keep his character semi-shrouded in mystery. It has somewhat of the opposite effect. At times, it feels like Richard is just gaslighting Holly, twisting her to brush away conveniences or genuine concerns. Then, he will act a way that seems as if he genuinely loves Holly, or lash out at his kids commandingly. His character inconsistencies did grate on my nerves a little.

A haunting music score that evokes the best of Hitchcock (especially 1960’s Psycho) transforms Homebound from a good movie into one verging on greatness. Less concerned with gory thrills and chills and more laser-focused on atmosphere, the violence is sparse. This makes it more powerful when the big moments do hit, and cause the eventual burst of brutality to have a more monumental impact on the viewer. The best scene comes in the final act, when Holly finally uncovers the family secrets. Masterfully executed (and without showing a shred of anything on-screen beyond character reactions), this scene reminded me that indie horror filmmaking remains host to a variety of stylistic flourishes one would be hard-pressed to discover in more mainstream fare.

Homebound screened at 2021’s Fantastic Fest. 

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