US (dir. Christopher Denham)
Cast: Adrian Pasdar, Cady McClain, Austin William, Amber Joy Williams, Lucian Maisel
Synopsis: Documents one family’s descent into darkness, using a compilation of found home-made footage. In the remote woods of upstate New York, the Poe Family lives a Norman Rockwell life. Perfect house. Perfect marriage. If only the children stopped stapling frogs to trees. Something is very wrong with ten-year old twins, Jack and Emily Poe. And, to stop them, their parents must enter the nightmare of their minds. The only question is: who will survive the night?
Review: So when your last name is “Poe” (as in Edgar Allan Poe) and your twin children, born on Halloween, take a real shine to torturing animals and speaking in their own made up language, is it safe to bet that they just might have a touch of evil in them? As “Home Movie” documents, it’s as safe a bet as any. “Home Movie” is one of the better entries in the found footage sub-genre. And although you may find it guilty of breaking some of the unwritten rules of found footage films, it’s a more enjoyable, more terrifying, more downright disturbing experience than you may predict, even if you’re one of those jaded types who hated “Paranormal Activity”. It’s a bit difficult to track down (bloody-disgusting.com confusingly lists it as unreleased, yet virtually every Blockbuster I’ve been to lately has a dusty copy of it sitting on its shelves), but if you come across an opportunity to watch it, you should definitely give it a chance (pretty please?). Given that it was produced by the idiot who directed this abomination, it’s practically miraculous it turned out to be this great.
The Poe family patriarch, a Clark Griswold or Michael Scott-like dorky dad, is one of those “celebrate every holiday to the fullest” types. He has a costume for every holiday (and I mean every holiday – even Easter, and to some degree, Thanksgiving) and his video camera, with convenient holiday sub-titles, is rarely out of his hand during all those “special” family moments. I guess they were really trying to sell us the idea that the video camera was (at least not until events started getting weirder) something brought out only for special events and holidays, as is the case with most families, and not an every day thing, which would have made the supposedly found footage angle a little bit harder to swallow. The dad’s love of going all out for every holiday is kind of cute actually, but in one way it almost makes you wonder if the kids didn’t turn wacko as a result. I mean, really, who dresses up as a giant pink rabbit for Easter?
Despite some really loving and obviously dedicated parents, the kids aren’t alright. For one thing, they are scary as hell, hardly ever speaking in English, communicating instead in some weird, made up language only they can understand. They synchronize their movements, draw some pretty nasty stuff (in typical killer kid fashion), and most disturbing of all, they torture and kill small animals. The Poe family seems to have every domestic pet one could possibly keep in a household, and the kids just work their way up the food chain from goldfish, to frog, to cat, to dog, killing every pet in increasingly gruesome ways. Almost makes you wonder why the parents simply didn’t take the pets away, especially once they fucking CRUCIFIED THE CAT! Yeah, these kids are pretty hardcore.
Unfortunately, this is where the film hits a bit of a speed bump, as the same scenario is repeated like 4 or 5 times: it’s a holiday (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas etc.), the dad is in one of his many costumes, and the kids kill off one of their pets, followed by some commentary from the mom or dad. Of course the natural progression from torturing and killing animals would be torturing and killing humans – and the final scene of the film, with mom and dad tied up on the kitchen table surrounded by their paper bag mask wearing, fork and knife wielding kids – is as good a reason as any to never have children.
Although why, after the kids have exhibited a slew of homicidal behavior, the father decides it’s a perfect opportunity to show the kids the finer points of breaking and entering and tying inescapable knots which will, of course, factor into the finale, is beyond me.
As mentioned, some of the typical conventions of the found footage film are absent here, namely the explanation for how this footage was “found” in the first place (i.e. no preamble at the beginning, no explanation at the end). And who exactly edited this footage together, especially since there is a considerable amount of voice over (a la “Blair Witch Project”)? And who is watching this footage? The film is inexplicably fast forwarded and rewound in many instances, which causes us to question what we are watching at all – are we actually watching found footage, or are we watching someone else (the kids?) watch the home movies? So with no captions and no discernible point of view, its difficult to get a perspective on what exactly it is we are watching, but I guess we are just left to assume the kids are the ones editing together the footage.
It turned out to be a little too perfect of a setup, having the mom as a child psychologist and the father as a pastor, as later in the film both science and religion are used to help explain and correct the abnormal behavior of the kids (mom uses therapy sessions and drugs, dad uses a good old-fashioned exorcism). However, in a way, it at least served its point – to show that the kids couldn’t be “cured” either way. What I wish had been explored more thoroughly would definitely be the “monster” in the kids’ closet (possible demon?) and the dad’s past (alcoholic, abused as a child) which may or may not have provided more explanations as to the kids’ behavior. In fact, I was kind of thinking there would be some sort of a twist where the dad was abusing the kids and they were simply reacting to it, but that never actually was the case – it was merely hinted at as being a possibility.
Did I like this film? Heck yes I did! It’s definitely one of the far superior found footage films, up there in the ranks of “Paranormal Activity”. It’s entertaining, scary as hell, and absolutely riveting. If you come across it, it’s definitely worth checking out. Why it didn’t get a theatrical release is beyond me.