I’m going to be straight with you guys. I am not a fan of conflict nor am I a fan of social interacting with strangers if I can avoid it. However, in recent years, I’ve gotten to a point where I have been able to push past my comfort zone and confront conflict head-on. That doesn’t mean, however, that the fear of conflict still doesn’t remain deep down inside of me and, at times, rears its ugly head in ways that end up making things worse later down the line. That’s why when I got the opportunity to watch HOMEWRECKER for the 2019 Fantasia Film Festival, I was hoping that finally, I had found a film that encapsulated that overwhelming fear of conflict. While the film does a great job tackling the subject in its first half, it completely derails off course and dives into cliched territory that will leave some people scratching their heads over what they just watched.
HOMEWRECKER is best described as follows: Michelle (Alex Essoe) meets Linda (Precious Chong) at a yoga class. Linda’s wide-eyed enthusiasm is clearly off-putting, but Michelle’s aversion to conflict makes it difficult for her to brush off the increasingly pushy woman. Things escalate once Linda asks Michelle to redecorate her home and refuses to let her leave. With the energy of a Jane Fonda workout tape, the movie escalates into the uncanny, especially as it deals with gendered expectations surrounding femininity and romance.
To say that my feelings on this film are mixed would be an understatement. I felt that the set-up of the young woman (Alex Essoe) painfully afraid of dealing with conflict having to deal with a lonely, desperate older woman (Precious Chong) had a lot of promise. and, as the film moved forward with its plot, was leading to something truly unhinged and fantastic between characters Michelle and Linda. It felt like HOMEWRECKER would be a film that explored the psychological ramifications of social mores and the status quo women are conditioned to maintain. However, once the true motivations behind Linda’s actions are revealed, the story devolves. It loses the compelling pull it had as the writing leans hard on cliches in order to guide the audience to realize what is actually going on.
What helps and hinders this film is its humor and oftentimes over-the-top performances and questionable editing. Essoe, Chong, and Zach Gayne managed to create a script that is humorous and manic with an undercurrent of tension. Essoe’s straight man Michelle works well with Chong’s desperately manic Linda. However, once we get about halfway through the film, Chong’s Linda becomes almost a caricature of herself, a wide-eyed batshit crazy woman dialed up to level 11 throughout the remainder of the film. It is at this point that it becomes difficult to connect with the character as she is almost a cartoon villain come to life. While some may argue that it would be to illustrate how truly unhinged she’s become, I’d say that the stakes and how things had played out in the story could not support this particular aspect of her performance at that point.
However, this is not to say that Chong’s performance wasn’t awful. She was, in fact, quite humorous as Linda. There is one scene in particular when she has gone outside to subdue Michelle in her backyard and her neighbor catches her. The naturalness of her delivery as she tells the neighbor that they’re just fighting and the neighbor’s natural acceptance of her lie was just so hilarious in the moment that I couldn’t hold back a snort. Then there is the terror and fear she managed to inflict as she tried to get Michelle to stay inside the house. Watching her try to find new ways to keep Michelle with her and watching Essoe’s Michelle painstakingly trying to avoid upsetting her was so tension-inducing that I had to pause at one point to get my own nerves to calm down. It was just too relatable.
A few times throughout HOMEWRECKER, I found myself having to pause over certain directing choices that were made that either didn’t make sense or took me out of the movie as a whole. There’s at least one clip that is referenced at least three times of murky, pink waters that obviously hints that we will circle back around to that shot at some point. However, I questioned what went into the decision-making process to reference it more than once. For a film with fairly brief run time, it felt unnecessary to keep returning back to the clip of murky waters that were originally featured in the opening scene. There was also a scene right after the reveal of motivations that really took me out of the film, where Chong’s Linda stares straight into the camera while she’s lip-syncing to a song. I’m not sure if anyone else had this reaction but the almost fourth-wall-breaking moment felt out of place and wholly unnecessary for the type of info bomb that had been dropped just minutes earlier.
Overall, I really wanted to like HOMEWRECKER because of the potential within the message originally presented during the first half of the film. However, the message is significantly weakened once motives are revealed and I have to assign that more to the execution of the reveal. There could have been ways to have written it so it was less cliched and, if the performance from Chong hadn’t gone into full-blown mania, it could have really been a well-earned moment when Michelle overcomes her fear of conflict to rescue herself. Unfortunately, while HOMEWRECKER had a lot of thematic potential, the overall execution fell flat for this writer.
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