Review Date: October 9, 2011
Released by: Synapse Films
Release date: 8/26/2008
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: No
At one of my prior film distribution jobs, I shared an office with the fellow who screened movies submitted to us for consideration. Although the selection of films was not part of my job, I could not help but be part of the process thanks to the fact that my office mate watched the submissions on a giant flat screen TV that was within full view of my desk. Many good movies were submitted, but the bulk of the films we saw were mediocre to terrible, especially the horror pictures, which made up a good percentage of the screener discs sitting on my co-worker’s desk at any one time. One film, in which the menaces were demonic monsters that appeared to be made out of brown paper shopping bags and paper mache, particularly stands out in my memory. It was always a crapshoot, you never knew how good or not good something was going to be when my co-worker put it in the DVD player. It is the same thing with reviewing, you never know what you’re going to get when a movie arrives sight unseen. Even the taste of normally reliable companies can never be trusted – Synapse Films, the same company who sent me Home Sick
, also chose to release the abominable Sick Girl
after all – which makes me all the more wary of low budget indie horrors from less reputable distributors. All of this was on my mind as I popped Home Sick
into my player, although as turns out, I would be pleasantly surprised by the results this time around.
It’s Christmas time, and art student Claire (Lindley Evans
) is returning to her hometown in Alabama for a visit. Unfortunately she’s not particularly happy to be back in this place, especially not when her old friend Mark (Forrest Pitts
) drags her out to a party on her first night home. Arriving at a local house, Claire, Mark and their friend Robert (Will Akers
) find their old friends Tim (Matt Lero
) and Candice (Tiffany Shepis
) watching Evil Dead Trap 2
A few minutes later the little gathering is disrupted by the arrival of a strange man (Bill Moseley
), who wears a bow tie and carries a suitcase with him. This man walks into the house unannounced, uses the bathroom, walks into the living room and then sits down on the couch next to Candice. He opens the suitcase, which is revealed to be full of razor blades, and when Candice tries to run he stops her and puts her in a headlock. Everyone screams and tells the man to get out, but he assures them that he has presents for them and he will leave as soon as they cooperate. All he wants to know is who is the one person that each of them in the room hates most in the world. The party goers each list off the people they hate – their boss, their ex-boyfriend, their neighbor, etc – and for each person this man cuts his arm with a razor blade. But when it comes time for Tim to name who he hates he can’t think of anyone. Flustered and desperate to get this man out of his house, he blurts out that he hates everyone in the room. This satisfies the bizarre visitor, who cuts his arm a few more times and leaves.
Over the next few days it becomes obvious that strange things are going on, as the people that were named at the party start turning up dead, hacked and slashed by a mysterious black gloved assailant who hides his face under a hood and mask. When Candice and her mother are murdered, the group of friends realizes that they have a big problem. Thanks to Tim’s blustering answer, everyone who was there at the party is now a target of whoever or whatever this killer is. Mark wants to go to the police, but Tim and his friend Devin (Brandon Carroll
)) have other ideas. Tim persuades the surviving group members to take shelter at the home of his uncle Johnny (Tom Towles
), a backwoods survivalist who is armed to the teeth. But this strange killer is hot on their trail and is intent on doing the rest of them in – if these disparate, quarreling individuals don’t manage to kill each other off first!
was filmed over a period of five months in 2003, and shot in an around the towns of Bessemer and Brighton, Alabama, two communities in the interior of the state that few outside the area have probably heard of. The director and screenwriter were two young men named Adam Wingard and E.L. Katz, respectively. In their early twenties and fresh out of film school at the time, they embarked on what was clearly a very ambitious project – and somehow they pulled it off. In a cinematic landscape that is littered with the remains of crummy microbudgeted horror films, few of them memorable for anything except how bad they are, Home Sick
stands out from the crowd by a long distance.
Taking clear inspiration from the Eurohorror films that were flooding the DVD market at the time, Home Sick
has certain aesthetic similarities with those productions, particularly the Italian giallo films that were finding new audiences during those years. I suppose that the biggest honor I could bestow upon these guys is to mention that some of the killings look like they could have come straight out of a Lucio Fulci film. The sustained, in-your-face close ups of carnage in Fulci’s gore films, and the insistence on dragging the moment out for maximum effect, are on display here. Other stylistic elements, including the black-gloved killer, are also present and obvious. It would be a mistake to say that Home Sick
feels like a European production – if anything, too often it feels like the its creators are channeling the worst aspects of Rob Zombie’s filmmaking style – but it does utilize elements of those foreign productions to good effect.
What is also highly unusual about Home Sick
is how technically sophisticated it is. The cinematography is quite good (it was shot on 16mm stock instead of video), the sound recording is decent and the special effects and make-up are impressive. In other words, they easily get a passing grade on these three elements, which are so often the bane of independent, non-Hollywood horror films. And while the notable names listed on the front of the package have only supporting roles – Bill Moseley is in just one scene, Tiffany Shepis is one of the first victims to die and Tom Towles’ character is introduced only near the end – they give some credibility to the cast, which is otherwise dominated by local performers, several of whom are atrocious actors. The Alabama locations – Adam Wingard is a native of the state – are filmed simply as they are, to great effect. Home Sick
is usually at its worst when it is trying to play up southern redneck culture, but when it’s not trying to do that, when it films local neighborhoods, bars and restaurants simply for what they are, the effect is pleasing. These are not sets, and these are not locations made up to look slick and glossy, these are real places with real people walking around them (literally, in many cases, as shooting often took place during business hours when customers could walk right in through the door).
Regrettably, E.L. Katz’s script is quite muddled. None of his characters can engender much sympathy; most of them are either too crazy or too unlikeable for audience identification, and when the climax finally comes we are happy to see them all killed. The most striking thing about the climax is that the characters actually manage to do as much damage to each other as the killer (who underneath the mask and gloves is revealed to be some sort of demonic monster), who is ultimately destroyed with disappointing ease. I have read other online reviews of this film, and Katz and Wingard have taken some flak for never explaining what the creature is or how it connects to Bill Moseley’s character, dubbed “Mr. Suitcase” by the end credits. Personally I like
not knowing, it makes the situation scarier to not have even the faintest clue what these characters are up against (similar in many ways to the original Phantasm
, which didn’t explain much either). If the filmmakers were ever to do a sequel, they would really have no choice but to develop the concept more, but the lack of explanation works well enough for the film to stand on its own. Home Sick
is a strange movie, a gruesome movie and in some ways a confusing movie, but in spite of and perhaps because of its low budget and bizarre story I have to say that I loved almost all of this film, and recommend to any horror fan in an adventurous mood.
is presented letterboxed at 1.85:1. This transfer is not enhanced for 16x9 displays, something that caught me completely by surprise, but other than that disappointment the movie looks very good. The transfer has a very authentic, very film-like texture to its appearance, with a thin layer of grain covering most scenes. For a non-16x9 transfer the image is relatively clear and sharp. Other than a few sporadic nicks and scratches there is virtually no noticeable damage to the film elements, and color quality is generally good, with accurate flesh tones, strong blacks and above average shadow detail. This presentation makes Home Sick
look like a much more professional and expensively made movie than it really was.
The only audio option is a Dolby 2.0 Stereo track. Sound mixing here is a little off, with dialogue sometimes being too quiet or sound effects and music being mixed too loud. Some of the original sound recording is subpar, and some portions of the dialogue sound rather muffled and tinny. In the commentary track the filmmakers talk about some of the post-production technical problems that they had with the audio, and it appears that the quality of this track was a casualty of those difficulties.
The biggest extra is commentary track with director Adam Wingard and writer E.L. Katz. Despite knowing and acknowledging that it makes no sense, the two men are very much in love with their movie, and it shows in their voices with each sentence. They talk about almost every facet of the production, from its lengthy, five-month shooting schedule to working with actors like Tiffany Shepis and Bill Moseley to its special effects and their reasoned explanation as to why the finished product came out so crazy and incoherent. They leave practically no gaps in the commentary, talking up until the very end of the final credits sequence, and their chat is both entertaining and informative.
Following the commentary is an alternate opening scene that shows the Claire character arriving back in her hometown after a train journey from California, and her being picked up by Mark, and then them going out to a fast food restaurant with the Robert character. If that sounds terribly boring to you, that’s because it is, it really is, and this nearly eight minute sequence was cut with very good reason.
Up next is a short video piece where Bill Moseley sits down for a brief interview on set, still wearing his Mr. Suitcase costume, his arm still stained with fake blood from his performance. Then director Adam Wingard is on hand for an unconventional making-of featurette called In a Room Where Darkness Counts
. What makes the featurette so unconventional is that it contains no behind-the-scenes footage and no interviews with anyone except Wingard, and instead of sitting down like a normal interviewee would, Wingard instead is shown walking, talking and putting on one-man re-enactments of various moments from the shoot, including an encounter with a gun-toting redneck who went on to become the inspiration for the Uncle Johnny character.
The supplements finish up with three of Adam Wingard’s short films, all made on conjunction with E.L. Katz. All three are surprisingly slick in their execution and production values, although the best of the bunch is also the longest one, The Girlfriend
, which clocks in at thirty-two minutes. It is the story of a young man who is taking his girlfriend home to meet his parents for the first time. Stopping at a gas station so that she can use the bathroom, the unfortunate girl has a disturbing encounter with the store clerk, after which she is replaced by a doppelganger that leads to a sequence of increasingly awkward and then bloody moments once they get to his parent’s house.
Enjoyable but of somewhat lesser quality is Laura Panic
, a three-minute short film about a girl who is in love with a guy, whom she enjoys stalking, until one night she breaks into his house and is forced to murder his roommate when she is caught. Narrated by the girl with no other dialogue, it is darkly humorous and never wears out its welcome, unlike the last of Wingard’s short films, 1,000 Year Sleep
, which runs six and a half minutes and presents the story of four girls, all of whom are about to be murdered by a serial killer. A droning narrator pontificates about what the girls would have done with their lives had they not been killed and spouts philosophical claptrap until the viewer is ready to scream at the TV in frustration, at which point the short slightly redeems itself by revealing that the annoying narrator is the killer himself, whose pointless ramblings are brought to a mid-sentence end when he falls off a cliff while trying to dispose of a body!
is a real trip of a movie, providing a bizarre but engrossing experience that is not quite like any other low budget horror film that I’ve ever seen before. While not a perfect film – too often the nonprofessional actors and story convolutions get in the way – it is certainly worth checking out, especially considering how high it stands above the other microbudget dreck that’s out there now. As for the DVD itself, it will be perfectly acceptable for those still clinging to their 4:3 TVs, although the lack of 16x9 enhancement will hurt the presentation for those with widescreen and HD sets. The movie is enjoyable enough, and the supplements interesting enough, for me to recommend this release to viewers who are willing to look past this technical deficiency.
Movie – B
Image Quality – B
Sound – B-
Supplements – B+
- Running Time – 1 hour 29 minutes
- Not Rated
- Chapter Stops
- 1 Disc
- English 2.0 Stereo
- Audio commentary with Adam Wingard and E.L. Katz
- Deleted opening sequence
- Interview with Bill Moseley
- In a Room Where Darkness Counts
- Three short films