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Homewrecker (2019)

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 10/15/19 12:44:38

"Some hosts just won't let go."
3 stars (Just Average)

SCREENED AT THE 2019 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Beware being too drawn in by descriptions, because while the way this movie was listed as being a lesson about being too polite and accommodating, that's actually just the hook; eventually, other things have to push the movie forward, and it never works quite so well as a story driven by specific intent than a riff on a lunatic who preys on good intentions. The less random it becomes, the harder it has to work.

It seems to start out pretty random, with two women crossing paths in various fitness classes often enough to recognize each other. It gives middle-aged Linda (Precious Chong) just enough familiarity to sit across from Michelle (Alex Essoe), who is having one of those "so this isn't the month we find out we're starting a family" moments. Linda notices that Michelle is an interior designer, something she's been looking for, and gets the younger woman to come look at her house. Once there, it becomes difficult for Michelle to politely extricate herself as Linda makes more and more demands on her time disguised as hospitality.

This seems more like the premise for a short film than a feature, even the filmmakers seem to work their tails off to make it to 75 minutes. They're nevertheless able to start strong, immediately butting Linda's long-arrested development against Michelle's accommodating but sensible nature, and while that gives Precious Chong a lot to work with. She's kind of generally intrusive and Chong (who co-writes with director Zach Gayne and co-star Alex Essoe) gets most of the big comedic moments and milks the heck out of them, initially making Linda big and crazy enough to unnerve but seeming just lonely enough to earn some sympathy and make it easy enough to see why Michelle doesn't just bolt. She's an intriguingly modern take on the old trope of the deranged spinster, one that plays differently in the current nostalgia-choked age where the old pop culture never goes away and there's so much pressure (and ability) to push the aging process back.

Essoe handles her end just as well even if she spends much of the movie's first half as Chong's ever-more-uncomfortable straight-woman projecting entertaining and utterly reasonable embarrassment, annoyance, and alarm. She always seems shows that Michelle can't believe that she can't extricate herself from this situation, whether it be because Linda is far more of a maniac than she could have expected or because she's chicken where upsetting a stranger is concerned. She explodes impressively when given the chance, seizing at what the audience clearly wants.

Homewrecker has to become a horror movie on the way to those moments, and for as much as the movie generally plays fair, among other things not waiting too long to get Chekhov's sledgehammer off the wall, it feels a bit like cheating when it starts connecting dots or going for gross-out material. A lot of the fun of the first half was how normal interaction could get deranged when one person starts taking advantage, and what comes after feels lie taking shortcuts compared to the drier sort of humor the film started out with. It's also kind of odd that the filmmakers more or less ignore certain dynamics that come with the age difference between Michelle and Linda once the film takes a certain twist - on the one hand, it's kind of cool that Linda is not dismissed as attractive for being older, on the other, part of what makes Linda nuts is trying to act younger than she is and suddenly tiptoeing around that in this one area feels strange.

Admittedly, my personal preferences skew more toward the film "Homewrecker" started out as being rather than where it ended up, but even so, it stretches out a bit, and even a charmingly nasty final punchline only goes so far to get a wandering second half back to the sharp comedy that spawned it.

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