SPOILERS AHEAD! Don’t scroll if you don’t want to know.
Home Movie was released in 2008 and was directed by Christopher Denham. It’s the story of the Poe family – parents David and Claire, and twins Jack and Emily – who have moved to the semi-isolation of the woods in upstate New York to live the good life. However, as a compilation of home movies reveals, there is more to their decision to leave the city than meets the eye, and as the children’s behavior becomes increasingly bizarre, David and Claire try with an alarming lack of effectiveness (and, truth be told, logic) to bring the kids back from the brink.
Reason for filming: Mom buys a video camera to record her notes regarding her patients, but Dad just can’t resist staging happy fun-time films with the fam.
What’s the horror: Creepy kids, psycho killers
Does the dog die? Yes, and also the family cat. And some frogs. In other words, animal lovers beware.
Gore factor: Fairly low in my opinion, and I’m not big on gore myself. For me, as long as I have warning that it’s coming and I can decide on my own whether or not I want to witness it, I am good – and there were a few scenes where there wasn’t warning in this one, but they weren’t too visceral.
Re-watch scale: Regular rotation. As I mention below, I watched this one three times in a row the first day, and can easily see myself keeping this one in heavy rotation. It was an immediate favorite.
This is a slow burn home-grown horror film; in the end, there’s nothing supernatural happening here. Just two increasingly creepy kids paired with two increasingly stupid parents. Mom is a child psychologist and Dad is a pastor, and the irony is thick with these two – although pairing a psychologist’s clinical approach with a faith-based response explains some of this. Mom and Dad cannot agree on what they should do here, because their different belief/faith systems keep colliding. It’s hinted that this has been an issue in their marriage from the start, but up to this point has only been a meet-cute conflict until they’re in the clutch, at which point the cracks start to show and eventually break wide open. Keep that in mind kids – no matter how hot the pastor or the child psychologist is, you need to sit them down and flesh out how the two of you intend to raise kids before actually creating one or more with that person. Just sayin.
The cautionary tale continues, as what starts out as preferred isolation on the part of the twins progresses past sullenness (which we see right from the start – never do we see Emily and Jack even remotely happy) to menace. At each turn, Dad becomes more manic about putting on a happy face for the camera – dressing up in outfits for each holiday, mugging for the camera, and continuing to laugh and cajole no matter how little response he gets from his children or irritation he gets from Claire. Claire, too, appears as clueless as David for quite a while – it’s clear they enjoy each other’s company far more than they do their children, and they seem to assume that if they just mug, smile, and cuddle MORE these kids will come around. They do not. I can’t say I blame Emily and Jack for this, at least not for refusing to join in with what is obviously feigned happiness and enthusiasm – kids see right through that shit, and so does the audience.
Soon Dad is reduced to drinking too much, forcing the kids to pray at Thanksgiving dinner (which they respond to with coordinated bomb-drop attacks on forks, glasses, and eventually full plates of food) and finally seeing the light about the situation WAY before Mom the Child Psychologist does. The true motivation for the move to the country is revealed when David shouts at Claire that their relocation “didn’t work” – the kids were going downhill back in the city, it seems, and have not gone uphill by moving to the actual hills. In fact, they’ve been expelled from school and done some bad things to family pets by Christmas morning, and David has taken to calling them psychotic. He ain’t wrong, but boozing it up and screaming at Claire ain’t gonna fix a damn thing. Nevertheless, he persists.
Claire responds unsurprisingly, but rather unethically, by deciding she is going to “treat” her own children, rather than taking them to a neutral third party to figure out what’s up, which is what she should have done. The reasons for this are revealed in another fight between her and David – they’re both embarrassed and ashamed of the damage their kids have caused in the past, and may have even moved away to escape some of that attention. So, Mom would rather try and treat the children herself rather than admit to an outside party that her kids are fucked up. In fact, it’s likely both Claire and David are aware of how two fucked-up kids would damage their own careers – a fact we can suspect is not lost on the way-too-smart-for-their-own-good-and-anybody-else’s children.
Of course Claire’s “treatment” fails miserably, and although the medication she prescribes (which isn’t consistent with reality as psychologists can’t prescribe medication but whatever) chills the twins out for a bit, it isn’t long before Emily and Jack are up to their old antics again, this time taking the kid from school whom they chewed on in a bathroom before and upping the stakes by putting a trash bag over his head and tying him to a table (Mom and Dad, are you paying attention? Because there’s a thing called foreshadowing that you might want to ponder here).
After that little attempt at murder, Claire and David can hide no longer – cops are called, and the kids are busted for the little psychopaths they are. In another required-for-the-story-but-in-no-way-would-happen-in-real-life glitch, the cops decide to let the twins stay home with their folks one more night (yes, after attempting to suffocate a kid to death these two get one more night at home) before being hauled away for whatever fate awaits them – it isn’t clear what that is, and it doesn’t matter anyway, because OF COURSE the kids turn on their parents and wrap this all up once the coast is clear. Soon enough, Mom and Dad are the targets of the twins’ psychosis, and there’s enough rope and trash bags around to put an end to this saga in an unnerving final scene, replete with a callback to one of Dad’s bigger blunders – reading a bedtime story to his already creepy kids involving a dinosaur, paper bags worn over heads, and the eating of children. Oh, and Dad’s ridiculous let’s-show-my-disturbed-children-how-to-pick-a-lock-and-tie-a-tight-rope-knot-to-show-how-cool-I-am display works out well for neither parent here, either.
While the exact reason for the twins’ pathology is never even remotely explained, we do at least get a hint or two that it’s been going on for some time through the eventual exposition Dad provides during that fight with Mom. For me, that was enough. I don’t require too much of found footage films in this or many other regards, because of the suspension of belief required to enjoy the genre at all – the old why would people keep filming while being chased through the forest thing will rarely, if ever, be resolved satisfactorily, so allowing leeway is a requirement of the genre. There are a lot of things that can go wrong with FF horror that can throw a movie off-track, but for me it’s just about balance – what a movie lacks in logic CAN be made up for with good camera work, acting, or tension, for example; and good camera work can make up for a lack in logic. And while the reasons to continue filming are weak here, the tension this movie builds makes up for it.
And there’s something to be said for that final camera confession in which Claire and David engage – it’s questionable why they even feel the need to do this, as so far there has at least been the pretense that the movies they’ve made were for purely personal or work-related reasons. Why do they need, at this point, to sit down in front of the camera and discuss what’s happened that day, and what’s going to happen in the morning? And Dad’s weepy, pathetic breakdown over never being able to see his kids again rings more than a wee bit hollow – is he overacting for the camera in case it becomes evidence, and he wants to look like a compassionate loving father whose only concern has ever been for the well-being of his kids, rather than someone partially responsible by failing to pay proper attention to the situation? Claire acknowledges the bizarre folly of making this last home movie, as if even she has finally figured out what has at least possibly been part of David’s motivation all along – a cover-up for his own complicity in his kids’ crimes.
I personally found this to be one seriously dark, sinister film, and although it was clear from the beginning that the parents were going to end up being victimized by these kids – there was never ANY indication that these two had an ability to properly analyze the situation and act appropriately – the HOW that was going to happen kept me just enough in the dark to stay on the edge of my seat. And when the shit went down, damn, those kids were scary enough to make me feel for David and Claire who, while clueless, flawed, and even downright stupid, still didn’t deserve what they got in the end. And of course, it happened right when they’d finally come to see the light about their demon spawn, and consequences were about to take place. The end.
The actors who played the twins – I believe they are twins in real life – were so believably creepy that I kind of fear for their sanity and hope this movie didn’t scar them for life. I’m fairly sure it didn’t, since I was prompted to look them up on Google to see if they showed up in any news articles about psychotic murder sprees and came up blank in that regard – just IMDB pages and the like, with not a lot of credits for either one. That’s a shame, because they both knocked evil-kid psycho-babies out of the park here, and deserve more work. They were downright menacing from start to finish, with a particular blank stare and cold plotting precision in their affects that made their actions all the more chilling. They seemed, in other words, the epitome of dead inside, and that just ain’t something anyone expects to see in kids this young, actors or no.
It’s the kids’ completely blank affects contrasted by Mom and Dad’s downright childishness in the earliest film clips that sustain the movie’s slow burn. The more sullen and withdrawn Emily and Jack become, the more manic the parents behave, giggling like schoolchildren with forced oh aren’t they just the cutest little devils responses to the children’s escalating behaviors. Jack throws rocks at Dad’s head? Force him to rake leaves as punishment, then undo any level of authority that may have afforded you by turning it into an isn’t this funny let’s mug for the camera while you do it game that immediately provides Jack with the upper hand when he finds and caresses a huge dead bug and completely creeps you out so that you shut down the camera. Emily glares at you with pure hatred while hiding behind her homemade fence plastered with a “no parents allowed” sign and you demand, with ever-increasing ineffectiveness, that she come out from behind it? Playfully place her in a wheelbarrow and giggle while she refuses to acknowledge anything you say, keeps her eyes closed, and totally poses as a corpse complete with arms crossed over her chest while you behave as if this is the funniest thing you’ve ever seen – all while acknowledging that your child DOES THIS REGULARLY and you’ve reinforced it every single time. It’s clear neither Claire nor David has the ability to generate and maintain any sort of authority, and while this may not be the whole reason for the kids’ psychosis, it surely doesn’t help.
It’s no wonder that by the end of the movie, the kids have completely turned the tables on them. Pun intended, as the final act involves the twins commanding the videocamera, using all the pills Mom’s been pumping into them to drug her and Dad into a stupor, and using the lock-picking and knot-tying techniques Dad taught them to restrain them on the kitchen table with garbage bags over their heads. Meanwhile, Emily and Jack sit on either side with paper bags over their heads and knives in hand just like the dragon in Dad’s poor choice of a nighttime fairy tale. We don’t see them eat them like the dragon does in David’s titular tale since the camera cuts out before they do, but the movie has hinted enough that that’s likely to happen – when the twins are caught first biting each other, then later chomping down on some poor kid they trap in a school bathroom – to heavily imply Mom and Pop are about to get gnawed.
There are enough callbacks like this final visual reference to a story David read for them near the beginning of the film to make up for some the movie’s illogical moments, in my opinion – I don’t like it when a movie explains too much and leaves nothing to the imagination, and in thinking about and reviewing the film I am satisfied with the small attempts made to tie the film together in its entirety. Is it perfect? No, but few horror films are anyway, and perfection is boring. I think this one wraps up neatly enough, and ends on a sinister note that stayed with me long after viewing. In fact, I re-watched it right away and then a third time the same night, because this one had a lot of what I love about the genre: the feeling I am really watching found footage of some awful something, entertaining characters, decent acting, a building up of suspense that actually goes somewhere, a satisfying ending, and a desire to re-watch the film. This one had all of that in spades, and I highly recommend it.