By JAMES TUCKER
Starring Alex Essoe, Precious Chong; Jacob A. Ware, Christine Nyland.
Directed by: Zach Gayne; Terence Key.
Written by: Zach Gayne, Alex Essoe, Precious Chong; Terence Key, Christine Nyland.
Produced by: Industry Standard Films, An Underground Jamboree: Unquiet Films.
Bear with me here: I’m trying something new.
Every so often I find there isn’t enough time to cover all the films I’ve seen, especially on Shudder, which has such a smorgasbord of options for the column. (I am NOT sponsored by them, by the way, but hey… I definitely wouldn’t say no.) There are so many Shudder originals that fit the bill for the column, as well as a variety of older or less well-known films that I get the itch to watch every other week. So I’m going to throw another monkey wrench in my beloved formula and review two films from the platform that share similar themes. And our theme this time? Relationships gone sour.
Let’s get into it. First up, Zach Gayne’s HOMEWRECKER.
I don’t watch a lot of thrillers, either for the column or my own time: I prefer my horror on the more batshit side, with an abundance of cemetery-prowling zombies, creatures skulking in the night, you get the idea. So HOMEWRECKER was a strange place for me to return to the genre.
It’s not your average thriller. The premise sounds generic (if entertaining) enough: Michelle (Alex Essoe) goes to Linda’s (Precious Chong) house with the intent to keep the lonely woman company under the pretense of helping her redesign her interior. Things quickly take a turn for the worse when Linda refuses to let her leave, attempting to make sure they become best friends forever. The meaning of the title doesn’t become apparent till the film’s third act, but regular thriller viewers will have sniffed it out by the halfway point of act two. Meanwhile, Linda’s psychology is the most compelling part of the film: she speaks like a 12-year-old, refuses to take no for an answer, and tries to transport Michelle back to the 80’s when she was a popular high school girl. Through this she insists that the pair plays a problematically dated board game, talk about boys, and watch movies together. It’s a very strong The Loved Ones vibe. In the meantime, Michelle tries to fight her way out, having been drugged, concussed, and also being a MASSIVE pushover.
Here’s the weird bit: the films is saturated with a soundtrack that comes off as an 80’s take on shoegaze, and it plays consistently. Through dialogue scenes, bath bomb close-ups, and even the fight scenes, where it is distorted. It’s distracting, even irritating at times, though I have no doubt the director had his reasons for it. The fight scenes are intentionally clumsy, making them more hilarious than tense. The truly tense moments of the film occur in the third act, aside from some obvious red flags Linda puts out there in act one, which WILL make you clench your teeth like you’re seeing the Trump supporter from down the street at the store. That being said, the third act is worth watching the whole film for. Linda makes a compelling figure to watch and try to puzzle out. Michelle is by no means the heroine of your dreams. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be groaning around the fifteenth time she trips on something she should have seen, but her conversations with Linda and her resultant character development make her develop into a hero we can root for. By the end, you’ll be wondering what comes next.
I can’t really say more, but… this film ends the only way it could have.
Next up, we have AN UNQUIET GRAVE by Terence Key, Shudder’s newest original release. The best way I can sum up this film quickly was “what if Wonder Woman 1984 was a psychological horror film?” Or perhaps “What if Pet Sematary only had psychological consequences?”
From the description you would think you were getting ready to see a film in the genre I like to call “cemetery horror,” embodied by old episodes of Tales From the Crypt where someone fucks with the dead and they come back swinging. What AN UNQUIET GRAVE actually is is a psychological horror film where the anti-heroic protagonist Jamie (Jacob A. Ware) talks his dead wife’s twin sister Ava (Christine Nyland) into trying to resurrect Julia (also Nyland) from the dead. When they get to the ritual site, he tricks her and ‘Freaky Friday’s’ his dead wife into her sister’s body without her knowledge or consent.
What follows is more of a 40-minute-long crisis of conscience than a haunting, although Ava’s “ghost” does pop up once to say hello. As Julia slowly learns the cost of what it took to bring her back, Jamie also learns that trying to fuck his wife in her sister’s body just… isn’t the same. It’s very uncomfortable, recalling the controversy around WW84’s release, but the film is aware of it and uses it as a source of dread. By the end of the film, everything is reversed and both Jamie and Ava are left with an ever more fractured relationship and the knowledge that “sometimes dead is better.”
It’s a scaled-back slow burn of a film that never really pops off, preferring to keep you uncomfortable in your seat and asking you to sympathize with an anti-heroic protagonist that is truly vile. Grief makes people do stupid things, yes; but murder your wife’s sister and then blow up at your undead wife after she starts to ask too many questions? I know I’m oversimplifying this, but that’s a bit of a dealbreaker. For fans of slow burn psychological horrors that delve deep into the muck and mire of negative emotions and what humans will go through to avoid them, this movie will definitely scratch that itch. But for me, the film was a little disappointing: no “real” haunting (I believe it was all in Jamie’s mind, and if it wasn’t… well, considering the second point that doesn’t really matter), no true consequences for either character aside from some psychological scarring, and no explosive climax to the tension. The films idea of a climax is an argument in the bedroom over a bloody knife, followed by the somewhat confusing disappearance of his wife near her grave and a gross (but devoid of tension) exhuming scene.
It’s an objectively solid mood-based psychological piece that serves as a character study for isolated, grieving people, but it’s not for me.
These films were both mixed bags, but their shared themes of relationships in turmoil made for a brilliant (if accidental) double feature. Next time, however, I plan on going a bit more…vintage.
You can watch both HOMEWRECKER and AN UNQUIET GRAVE on Shudder!