By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Starring Alex Essoe and Precious Chong
Directed by Zach Gayne
Written by Precious Chong, Alex Essoe and Zach Gayne
Dark Star Pictures/Uncork’d Entertainment
One of the genre’s brightest current talents, Alex Essoe (STARRY EYES, DOCTOR SLEEP), and an actress tearing vigorously into a breakout role, Precious Chong, engage in a pas de deux of bad behavior and violence in HOMEWRECKER. A wicked black comedy that boils over into horror at several key moments, the movie (in select drive-ins now and on digital platforms and DVD tomorrow) demonstrates what can be achieved with one principal setting, two skilled performers, a tight, sharp script and a director who brings pace and color to the material.
That screenplay was written by the two leads and director Zach Gayne, and gets right down to business. Michelle (Essoe) is taking part in a workout class when Linda (Chong) begins checking her out. After a simple text exchange succinctly establishes Michelle’s home situation (she’s trying to get pregnant, while her husband is ambivalent about that possibility), Linda helps her out of an awkward situation and then follows her to a coffee shop. Linda is overly friendly and inquisitive, resisting Michelle’s polite attempts to be left alone, and when she discovers that Michelle is an interior designer, Linda aggressively invites her to come check out her place for potential work. The dynamic between the two–Linda taking advantage of Michelle’s good nature–is swiftly and persuasively established, to the point where you can buy that Michelle accepts Linda’s invitation back to her house, even when Linda yells at people on the sidewalk along the way.
Once they’re inside, Gayne, Essoe and Chong pull off a great, teasing suspense setpiece in which Linda makes Michelle a drink, while Michelle is thinking what any viewer will also be thinking. The situation escalates from there, and Michelle finds leaving Linda’s place a lot more difficult than expected, while trying to reason with her and appeal to her better nature. Linda’s initial apparent desperation for a friend to talk to gives way to a more damaged pathology, and the situation becomes reminiscent of MISERY (especially when Linda takes down the sledgehammer mounted on a wall). What makes HOMEWRECKER different in its subgenre is that in a certain sense, the two women are soulmates as well as antagonists; both have been victimized, in different ways, by society and the expectations it puts on their gender. They might even be able to commiserate, if Linda wasn’t so far around the bend mentally.
Chong (daughter of Tommy and also the film’s art director) truly inhabits this role, a woman who peaked in high school and still tries to recapture those days in ways that very amusingly skewer ’80s pop culture. Linda insists that Michelle join her in watching GIRLS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN, her favorite movie (albeit one she inaccurately describes as Shannen Doherty’s first role), and later in playing a fictional, bizarre yet also telling video board game called PARTY HUNKS. As Michelle acquiesces, yet still attempts to find a way out of the situation and eventually reveals cracks in her own facade, Essoe plays all the facets of the part with commitment and sympathy.
As the psychological warfare playing out under Linda’s roof becomes physical, Gayne eschews choreographed smackdowns and instead stages ungainly tussles between the women that resemble how it might actually look if two untrained enemies went after each other. He also employs the more formal device of split-screen (as seen above), yet in an unshowy way, using it to keep his two antagonists together and connected on screen even when they’re separated by walls. This is just one example of how well-thought-out HOMEWRECKER is, and the ways in which its simple scenario has been developed to multifaceted effect in terms of both its entertainment and aesthetic values.