I’m the kind of critic who blindly scrambles adjectives down in a notebook during every film I’m reviewing during screenings— I jot down quick descriptors of standout performances, story logic, cinematography, etc.— but rarely do I ever write the words “Holy shit” as my final thoughts on my notebook paper.
Omri Dorani’s crumbling romance horror THIS IS OUR HOME elicited that reaction out of me. Influenced by films like Blue Valentine and fresh off the recent heels of Midsommar, THIS IS OUR HOME introduces us to romantic partners Reina (Simone Policano) and Cory (Jeff Ayars) through an edited montage of the highs and lows of a loving, but complicated relationship. Some flashes of laughing over silly baby names coincide with shots of Reina sobbing with Cory over her shoulder. Screenwriter Robert Harmon doesn’t show his cards too early: we don’t get the full story of what has happened between this pair right off the bat, although we have a faint idea.
The couple is on their way to a weekend getaway in Reina’s lovely childhood home near some woods (that sorta reminds one of Nancy Thompson’s house on Elm Street.) Prior to their arrival, they get stuck with a flat tire and run into two suspicious dudes who help them out, before finally settling in with some wine and conversation— although Reina’s interest in bonding with Cory comes and goes in waves, as she is seemingly placing some distance between herself and her lover. (The actors’ changing hot-and-cold chemistry is totally believable and feels genuine, by the way.) Just as Reina finally begins warming up to Cory’s bonding advances, and he allows her to play a dangerously strange medical school game— in which she places a piece of raw meat on his forehead and practices incision-making— loud, relentless knocking comes at the door. And no, it’s not those two weird dudes from earlier in the day…
Instead (and this is not a spoiler, since the film’s synopsis and trailer express this) a seriously bizarre boy of about 10-11ish years old shows up, hurt, and starts referring to the couple as “Mummy and Daddy.” The child Zeke (a really effectively weird performance from Drew Beckas) completely turns the already-struggling couple’s world upside down, and may make or break their bond. Anything further is best experienced in viewing.
At a swift 73 minutes, THIS IS OUR HOME hooks itself into you and doesn’t let up. Dorani builds tension by sticking to what often works best in the horror genre, with tried-and-true techniques such as great usage of lighting; slow camera pans; dread-inducing long shots of shadowy, unnerving door frames; a striking score; an intriguingly mysterious intruder; and protagonists whose lives you feel invested in (and whether or not they make it out alive.) And, for as much of the film relies on psychological horror (which I adored), chilling physical brutality is also sprinkled here and there as well, including a moment involving scissors that I legitimately felt myself turning white from. (I will add that I tend to be easily queasy with injury-related gore, but the audience in my screening also did some squirming, so it wasn’t just me.)
With committedly realistic performances from all parties and a compelling narrative that takes bits and pieces from The Strangers, The Omen, Misery, and even Hereditary, (but is its own thing!) THIS IS OUR HOME is a little indie gem I would keep an eyeball out for— but perhaps not too closely…as you will come to see in the film. Ouch.