Director Can Evrenol’s obsession with childhood trauma and nightmares can be seen in the opening shots of Baskin, his directorial debut (based off an 11-minute short) that introduces a child to the carnal – bordering on demonic – sounds of his parents lovemaking.
In HOUSEWIFE, the directors latest contribution to the Lovecraftian cannon that reaches deep into the phantasmagorical, a young girl becomes the sole witness to her own mother’s frenzied Filicide of her older sister. An act that carves out a deep laceration in her psyche, one that creates a bordered up closet where she’ll inevitably store her skeletons, giving the film its own brand of lucidity. It’s a line – a very fine and blood strewn one – that Evrenol has quickly etched into his short resume with a jagged fingernail, a trademark that often slips in its own chaos yet commands an unearthly hold on the subconscious like a recurring nightmare.
Cutting across the screen with the sharpness of a Wendy Carlos score – its isolated and snowy abode even evokes Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining – HOUSEWIFE begins like a subverted home invasion film, as a little girl eludes her mother’s murderous attempt after drowning her older sister in the toilet moments before stabbing her father in front of her. It’s a cold, dizzying and unhinged introduction, and nothing quite like the director has done before. That’s because it feels rooted in a niche market, piercing the skin like a razorblade that evokes the slasher sub-genre for a director who is often difficult to classify.
Then the little girl grows up, and from the shadows of her childhood comes an isolated, withdrawn woman named Holly (Clementine Poidatz) who, as the title alludes, acts as a housewife to her seemingly successful husband (Ali Aksoz). This is where Evrenol quickly rediscovers his roots with psychosexual fever dreams and hallucinatory descents into trauma. Holly, continually plagued by visages of her mother, can’t seem to escape her past, which is presented as both a recurring act (she can’t use a toilet to urinate) and a recurring nightmare, one that plays out like the rush of an ice bath.
After a past connection resurfaces in the form of an ex-infatuation named Valery (Alicia Kapudag) who vanished and joined a cult named ‘Umbrella of Love and Mind’, Holly is pulled further into the recess of her past after she’s invited to attend a seminar by the cults leader, Bruce O’Hara (David Sakurai). Mixing the hauntingly hunky aesthetic of Criss Angel with the command of Tony Robins, Bruce O’Hara taps deep into Holly’s subconscious, slowly turning the knob on her minds closet and releasing more than a few skeleton’s.
What ends up stumbling out is a twisted fairy tale of birth and discovery, destruction and creation that bristles with deliberate provocation. Evrenol makes no attempt at rounding edges or refining taste; HOUSEWIFE is a jagged table of butchered flesh and flayed ideas that will captivate and revolt. Heads are bashed in, faces are literally peeled off in a remarkable display of practical effects and Rosemary’s baby finally receives a playmate. If you thought Baskin’s maddening descent into a Turkish hellscape couldn’t get more dizzyingly torturous, then perhaps you’ve never thought what it’s like to be a woman.
Holly carries around the weight of a horrific past, one that can hardly let her go. And like her mother it lingers, brushed away in a dark corner waiting for the lock to loosen so it (and she) can slither into her waking life. She carries around the burden of these memories while maintaining a composure fit for the patriarchy, and it’s (probably) what compels her to discover the blurred line between her constant nightmares and her inconstantly happy reality.
Employing actors whose first language isn’t English gives the film (Evrenol’s first to stray from his Turkish tongue) a haziness to its landscape, building a fever-dream fire that smolders. Except it too often creates a stilted nature between the characters that everything tends to feel much less evocative and tangible than a real dream manifests. Outside of what we see within Holly’s past and dreams is often strained, mirroring the stifled relationship between her husband, who exists as a representation of her present, Valery her past and Bruce O’Hara her future. It’s a window into the lives of others that teeters between letting us in and demanding that we remain on the outside, observing what some will find difficult to confront and many impossible to relate to; womanhood.
That’s because Holly, despite the poised femininity actress Clementine Poidatz conveys with her desperate and longing looks, feels suppressed as a woman given she’s seen through the pen and lens of men (Evrenol co-wrote with Turkish comic artist Cem Ozuduru). It’s what keeps the proverbial window shut, forcing us to trace our fingers across its chilled glass while soaking in the hallucinatory likeness of its oppressed gender. And while HOUSEWIFE is far from digestible – it might even make some sick – its tale of reliving trauma (as many are forced to do lately) manages to be deeply disturbing and immensely revealing on a phantasmagorical plane that parallels our current events, demonstrating that perhaps being a woman is more terrifying than us men can ever imagine.
HOUSEWIFE is now available to own on DVD, VOD and Digital