Homebound is screening as part of the 2021 Fantastic Fest.
Sebastian Godwin’s debut feature, Homebound, is a lean domestic thriller with a transfixing tone and a less-than-satisfying conclusion.
Holly (Aisling Loftus) is off to meet her fiance Richard’s (Tom Goodman-Hill) ex-wife and children in the countryside. On arrival, most of the family is nowhere to be found. Eventually, Richard’s estranged children come out of the woodwork. However, they are cagey and distant. The ex-wife, Nina, is apparently not planning on showing up at all. By dinner, even Richard is acting somewhat strange, exhibiting mood swings which Holly is off-put by.
Something is amiss. Perhaps it is just collective nerves over this novel situation. Richard hasn’t seen his children in quite some time. Holly is meeting them for the very first time, and at least two of them are not providing a warm welcome. But…as the trip continues, more and more the environment seems odd, even hostile. The children act up around Holly, occasionally putting her in danger. Their motivations are not immediately clear, and Richard’s blase reactions are even less clear.
Homebound wraps a mystery up into what is a quietly tense drama. For the longest time, you aren’t sure what is going on. It is difficult to discern exactly what the mystery even is. Where is Nina? Why are the children acting so strange? Why is Richard growing increasingly erratic?
The answers end up being rather uncomplicated, but the establishment of the uneasy tone is so effective that the events within and without the house borders on the surreal. So while the end result lacks the gut-punch of tension it is going for—the final moments are elusive in terms of what it does and does not reveal, to the detriment of the climax—the slow-burn drama in the interim is engaging.
The film sports a small ensemble, who all give fairly gripping performances. Besides Holly, the characters are written with an uncertainty when it comes to emotional motivation. Occasionally, this caginess comes off as muted, but the performances are rarely stilted. Hattie Gotobed, in particular, is impressive as the family’s eldest daughter.
Through its first two acts, Housebound is a rather effective mood piece. There isn’t anything particularly flashy about its design or aesthetic, but the increasing tension among its characters held my attention. Without a flooring conclusion—it goes for one, but I remained firmly seated—I fear this low-key thriller will escape from my mind in due course.
As always, thanks for reading!
—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)