“Come on then,” the protagonist of Sebastian Godwin’s underwhelming cinematic trip into hell, Homebound, says, urging his offspring to hurry up. “Up the apples and pears.” That’s British slang for stairs. Sadly, aside from some mildly amusing linguistic quirks, the things we tend to associate with independent British cinema – acerbic humor, mind-bending horror, innovation – are largely absent here. Over a very short running time of 71-minutes, writer-director Godwin slowly and somewhat clumsily builds tension, preparing viewers for an insane twist. To call the film’s non-ending a letdown would be a disservice to letdowns.
The plot in a nutshell: Richard (Tom Goodman-Hill) takes new girlfriend Holly (Aisling Loftus) to meet his kids, only to find the house spooky, dark, and empty – until the ghost-like Anna (Raffiella Chapman) greets them with weird “killer child” vibes. Richard’s other two children, Ralph (Lukas Rolfe) and Lucia (Hattie Gotobed), project an even stronger sense of menace. Their mother is conspicuously missing.
“…find the house spooky, dark, and empty – until the ghost-like Anna greets them…”
Holly is understandably unnerved. What’s less understandable is why she doesn’t bolt out the door the minute the crazed family slaughters a goose (“Lucia, show us what you’re made of,” Richard taunts), or when Richard gets inebriated with the kids, or water-tortures one of them. Yes, it’s that kind of movie: ludicrous but seemingly unaware of its own pretensions, never quite so-bad-it’s-good, but rarely good enough to rise above bad. The filmmaker seems confident that he’s assembled an “elevated horror,” minimalist masterpiece. Unfortunately, the result is just minimal.
Loftus delivers a one-note, screechy performance throughout Homebound; she seems confused, not quite sure how to react to all the creepiness avalanching upon her. Goodman-Hill fares better as the increasingly demented father, yet there’s not much even a stalwart could do with the underwritten character. The children, dare I say, fare best – although it may be because their characters are inherently a smidge more intriguing than the bland central duo.
Homebound barely qualifies as a feature-length film. Perhaps it would’ve functioned better as a condensed short or an expanded, deeper dive into madness. Godwin’s effort is both over-the-top and extremely conventional. It brings to mind the similarly low-budget Dogtooth, another exploration of unconventional parenting, but, unlike Yorgos Lanthimos’s masterpiece, it feels underexplored and crude.
"…exploration of unconventional parenting..."