North Bend Film Festival Review: MODEL HOME (2018)

MODEL HOME is the debut feature from director Patrick Cunningham and is a harrowing study on how mental illness can affect those we love the most. The film stars Monique Gabriela Curnen (The Dark Knight, Half Nelson), Luke Ganalon (Bless Me, Ultima, Grey’s Anatomy), Jon Jon Briones (Sons of Anarchy), Jasper Cole (American Horror Story: Apocalypse), and Kathy Baker (Edward Scissordhands).

MODEL HOME takes place right after the housing market has crashed. For those who are struggling and find themselves in the low-income bracket, a program has been created, titled “live-in staging”, which would allow families to decorate and maintain properties to showcase to potential buyers. Having run out of options, a single Latina mother and her son movie into a beautiful rent-free home with the promise to have the house staged at all times. What begins as a dream quickly spirals into a waking nightmare as the mother’s obsession and mental illness rears its ugly head with devastating consequences towards her son and those around her.

One of my favorite aspects about film festivals is that it opens the door to movies not commonly talked about in general conversation. Prior to attending North Bend Film Festival, I wasn’t aware of MODEL HOME outside of the brief synopsis given to us. However, when the end credits began to roll, I found myself wide-eyed and on the edge of my seat as MODEL HOME was one of the best depictions I had ever seen of how mental illness can spiral out of control. Though it does have a slow burn feel to it, the tension ramps up rather quickly and is a constant background hum throughout the film – a reminder that not all is well and it’s not going to get better any time soon.

The driving force of the film is definitely actress Monique Gabriela Curnen, who portrays Camila, a single mom who is doing the absolute best she can to provide for her son, Jaime, played by Luke Ganalon. Watching her crumble from within, convinced that she doesn’t need medicine to help her, was difficult to watch at times. I found a lot of myself in her portrayal as I have times where I struggle with my own mental health and the notion that I will always have to take medicine to help me. Though I can’t relate to what ends up happening with Camila at the end, I appreciated how raw and honest this aspect of the film was.

Something else to note was that the film truly centers around a Latino family which is a nice change of pace from the cookie-cutter White Americans we are constantly seeing. I really want more people to see this film, not just because I think it’s phenomenal, but also because the film is carried by a Latina woman. The film world is in desperate need of more diverse characters in leading roles which is why I was so happy that MODEL HOME showcased that. Sure, some might argue that the film is showing the terrifying descent of a Latina woman, but that’s not the point. The point is that an extremely talented actress brought this film to life and showcased the struggles of a single mom, resulting in a film that is both heartbreaking and horrifying. This is a scenario that could happen to anyone, of any ethnicity, and it’s refreshing to see a woman of color at the forefront.

I honestly can’t say enough wonderful things about this film and I’m so grateful I had the chance to catch it at the North Bend Film Festival. There’s a lot of moving pieces to the movie, diving not only into mental illness, but also poverty and how we treat minorities, and it’s a somber reminder that this type of behavior still takes place today. Along with the dynamic story, written by by both Cunningham and William Day Frank, the acting is phenomenal and there is enough tension to keep you glued to your seat as you watch the horrors unfold. I’m a huge fan of films that are willing to showcase real-world scenarios and MODEL HOME encapsulated that ten folds. This is one film you’ll definitely want to keep your eyes out for in the (hopefully near) future.

Shannon McGrew
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