[Fantasia 2023 Review] HOME INVASION

In 1966, Marie Van Brittan Brown, a Black nurse living in New York, invented what is now known as the modern home security system. After having been burglarized several times already, and with the police proving to be of no help, she decided to take action to put her mind at ease. Marie drilled peepholes into her door and installed a video camera, which recorded everything happening outside. She later sold the prototype and it became popular amongst suburban gated communities. When asked in an interview if she was proud of her invention, or if it made her feel safer, Marie could not give a definitive answer. Enter HOME INVASION.

This factoid introduces Graeme Arnfield’s strangely compelling, unexpectedly frightening HOME INVASION – an experimental documentary / visual essay that traces the history of the doorbell. You’d be forgiven for questioning how a seemingly innocuous subject could be the basis for such a chilling work, but it doesn’t take long for the film to make its point.

The title has multiple meanings, with one referring to the phenomenon in which an offender illegally enters a residence and the other referring to how tech has invaded our personal lives. Divided into several segments, HOME INVASION starts with a focus on how the invention of the doorbell has evolved into more intricate technologies, from the home security system to Ring Cameras. The first third of the film is particularly strong, relying heavily on actual footage taken from door cameras. These clips feature mundane occurrences on the other side of our doors, including postal workers, food deliveries, and stray animals. There are also clips of a far more alarming nature, such as intruders and house fires.

Placing the audience in the uncomfortable position of seeing something we probably shouldn’t, this footage alone is engrossing. From an educational angle, it provides a thoughtful argument against companies such as Ring, which has become synonymous with contemporary policing. Shockingly, there are no statistics as to whether or not Ring actually makes people safer. There are, however, reasons to believe that door cameras serve as an avenue for paranoia rooted in racism and classism. Arnfield reminds us constantly that Ring is not a doorbell company but a surveillance company that sells doorbells. This distinction appears to have opened a Pandora’s box involving data, digital fingerprints, and who has access to what.

The remaining sections of the film see Arnfield exploring ideas beyond that of modern surveillance. One chapter analyzes home invasions through the lens of cinema, starting off with D.W. Griffith’s contributions to the subgenre. Borrowing footage from iconic examples such as Scream, Wait Until Dark, and Black Christmas, it proposes that this niche is rooted in society’s psychological interest in policing themselves and their property. Thematically relevant as these later chapters may be, they can’t quite stack up to the fascinatingly scary real-life footage that the film unleashes early on. Thanks to excellent editing, however, Arnfield ensures viewers stay gripped for the 90-minute ride.

Presented as if the audience is looking through a peephole, both the footage and informational text have a fish-eye lens effect that fits inside the unique framing device. It’s extremely well-realized and ties in nicely to the central theme. I did notice a few grammatical errors, especially an absence of commas and apostrophes. This may have been a deliberate stylistic decision, but I’m not entirely certain. Music is also terrific, opting for an industrial approach that is both immersive and in step with the harsh tone.

As the credits rolled, I glanced at my front door to ensure I had locked it. In my defense, I do this before going to bed anyway, but I still couldn’t help but make a mental note of it. But make no mistake – HOME INVASION is not trying to make you paranoid, at least not in the way you might expect. Instead, Arnfield wants to draw attention to instances in which paranoia has led to innovation and how these innovations can have drastic consequences. The doorbell and its successors are conveniences invented to keep us safe. But what good is convenience if it thrives off our fears and anxieties?

HOME INVASION made its North American premiere at Fantasia Film Festival on July 29th, 2023.

Tom Milligan
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