Homesick, from director Jakob M. Erwa, is a German horror film that takes us into the life and mind of Jessi as she and her boyfriend move into a new apartment with suspicious neighbours. Lee reviews.
As horror is perceived psychologically, it seems fitting that, more often than not, the skin will crawl when faced with the terrors of our own fragile mentality. We exist in our minds, and the threat of that existence being challenged directly consciously and subconsciously can send us into disarray. Homesick wears that understanding well, crafting and communicating a ghost story out of an experience of the anxious mind, and it does an admirable job setting the scene.
Jessi and Lorenz are a young couple who have just got their first apartment together. Lorenz works long hours and is away most of the day; Jessi stays at home, only leaving to attend her cello recitals, as she has an upcoming competition that will put her on the map as a musician. Her father pays her share of the rent, and feels no remorse in reminding his daughter; meanwhile, the neighbours up above warn them to keep quiet, and give them a creepy angel statuette as a welcoming gift.
The laying of the scene is done well; we get a good sense of the relationship between Jessi and Lorenz, we see the pressures that play on Jessi’s mind, and careful and steady direction crafted mostly from slow pans and long takes evokes tension in nearly every frame. We expect the worst to happen, but the actual happenings are mostly invisible – the pressures and paranoia affecting Jessi build in the vacancy and silence of the apartment and the frame, and as events become more and more fractured, it feels natural to expect someone to creep up behind her or break into her room while Lorenz is gone. It’s subtle communication, but it’s a pure form of dread that gives much of the film its endless discomfort and translates flawlessly the experience of our lead.
It’s in balancing its concepts that the film loses much of its vigour, and eventually results in a narrative that feels cheap. While the nuance of having the horror speak for itself through thoughtful, lingering shots can definitely be detected, it feels at odds with characterisation that often starts on the right note before dissolving into basic, this way or the high-way binary. Jessi and Lorenz usually hold a glimmer of truth to their interactions, as Lorenz becomes an apologetic mess for Jessi’s more often erratic behaviours, showing that people can be truly out of their depth when it comes to trying to help their loved one cope with anxiety. As Jessi slips gradually into psychopathy and mania however, the story loses its insight into any real condition, favouring exaggeration and dramatic convention over a story with any real weight to it.
If the film was a more energetic story that focussed on how the pressures of the world eventually make you a crazy person, keeping things general and fun, the outcome here could have worked. But because this is such a gradual story that takes time and effort to paint a picture, the resolve of the ‘some people can’t live up to their expectations’ story is predictable and rather tame. It doesn’t attempt to challenge the audience, but expects them to feel challenged at the same time, and once all has been dissolved, the film feels much like a wasted opportunity that had interesting ideas but goes nowhere with them.
It’s a real shame, because it starts out with the best of intentions and has some incredible use of minimalist cameras and settings that should absolutely inspire any indie filmmakers in the audience. The dread it evokes is real and present right to the very last minute, and this unfortunately becomes the film’s unmaker, as this kind of negative experience requires a reward to the audience for sticking through it, and Homesick can’t help but come up short.
[This film will be premiering on Friday 31st March at the Belfast Film Festival as part of the Dark Hedges Movie Club. If you feel like checking Homesick out for yourself, you can grab yourself a ticket by clicking this link. Make sure to check out 2017’s Belfast Film Festival!]