Friday, March 06, 2020

Cinequest ’20: Homewrecker

Fortysomething Linda is the sort of person who can even make 1980’s nostalgia creepy. It is because she is completely unhinged, in jealous and possessive ways. She has decided to befriend Michelle, a not particularly social interior designer in her early thirties, even if it kills the younger woman. It does not pay to be nice in Zach Gayne’s Homewrecker, which screens during this year’s Cinequest Film & Creativity Festival.

Linda just happened to join Michelle’s workout class and coincidentally stopped by her favorite coffee shop, where she introduces herself. She is unusually forward and more than a little bit annoying, but Michelle does not want to seem rude, so she humors the woman. Reluctantly, she agrees to give Linda’s home a professional look-over, but that will be a mistake. Once she is inside, Linda will not let her go. At first, she uses techniques of guilt and manipulation to convince her to stay, but eventually she resorts to more violent methods.

Frankly, Linda is not so very different from Annie Wilkes in Misery, but Michelle is a much more resourceful captive. Ironically, the early scenes of social awkwardness are much more uncomfortable to watch than the subsequent brawls and beatdowns. Gayne unleashes some brutal mayhem, but it steeped in bracing dark humor, very much in the Tarantino tradition.

There is also some brilliant art design work from Andrew Barr & Tim Reid, who crafted the look of “Party Hunks,” a retro-80’s Sweet Valley High-esque VHS-boardgame Linda makes Michelle play. It is the sort of memorable in-film game that ranks with the ones seen in Beyond the Gates and Into the Dark: Uncanny Annie.

Alex Essoe’s work as Michelle is probably her best since Starry Eyes­, but it is a much fiercer performance. Her visceral rage to survive makes quite an impact. Similarly, Precious Chong is so unsettling and discomfiting as Linda, she will have most viewers crawling out of their skins. Sparks definitely fly between them (and blood will spatter). This is basically a two-hander until a surprise guest turns up during the third act, but they easily carry the film together.

As a title, Homewrecker makes sense after you finish the film, but it initially seems rather misleading and inapt. Regardless, fans will approve of the way Essoe, Chong, and Gayne fully commit to the dark premise and troubled characters. It is simple in terms of setting and staging, but very twisted. Highly recommended for fans of horror and transgressive humor, Homewrecker screens again today (3/6), Wednesday (3/11), and the following Saturday (3/14), as part of Cinequest 2020.