Homewrecker. 2019. Directed by Zach Gayne.
Screenplay by Gayne, Alex Essoe, & Precious Chong.
Starring Alex Essoe, Precious Chong, & Kris Siddiqi.
An Underground Jamboree / Industry Standard Films
Not Rated / 74 minutes
Comedy / Horror
Disclaimer: Significant Spoilers, y’all.
Zach Gayne’s debut feature is a unique breed— a postmodern chamber drama that leans into dark laughs, as well as various painstaking moments of physical and psychological horror. This goes beyond any hilariously uncomfortable qualities of awkward comedy, right into a territory of humour that’s as honest as it is terrifying.
Homewrecker focuses on mild-mannered Michelle (Alex Essoe). She’s too much of a sweetheart and finds it tough to be confrontational, so much so she winds up in silly situations. Like when Linda (Precious Chong), who always seems to be in the same place or in the near vicinity, chats her up in a coffee shop. One thing leads to another and Michelle goes back to the older woman’s home.
That’s when things get troubling, since Linda doesn’t plan on letting Michelle leave.
Something to note is Essoe and Chong helped co-write the screenplay with Gayne, evident in the natural flow of conversation, no matter how deranged, between the two characters. These women give powerhouse performances that’ll have you biting your nails and chuckling, too. What erupts through these two women is a claustrophobic, hilarious, and downright disturbing depiction of how women are driven into competition against one another, at the expense of their bodies and minds.
“I’m always worried I’m going to
create a problem where there isn’t one…”
After the initial setup, the film quickly gets into Linda’s loneliness. She’s clearly desperate for human contact. She gets angry early on with Michelle: “What is it with your generation and checking your phone?” This evolves into an understanding she’s ignored by people, feeling increasingly disconnected from a postmodern world based in “text, text, text” and separated by the distance of social media / other forms of instant communication. She’s contrasted with Michelle, who’s not exactly phone or social media-obsessed. That doesn’t mean the younger of the two isn’t affected by the same postmodern world with which Linda is disaffected.
Michelle does retreat to the isolation of text messages at an important moment. She displays a form of alienation in the way she refuses to address conflict head-on. While she suffers through an afternoon with Linda she texts her husband, complaining about the situation rather than get out of it. She may not be disconnected from the world around her because of technology, but she does use it as a way to purposefully alienate herself when she deems necessary— ending with much the same results.
There are shreds of truth in Linda’s “text, text, text” frustration, too. Postmodern methods of communication have isolated us in a world of perfect convenience, in which we also don’t want to inconvenience others. These days people will convince you that making a phone call is an intrusive act, as opposed to a text. In this space of supreme convenience where we worry constantly about inconveniencing others by intruding into their lives, crossing the boundaries of social media / text, social etiquette amplifies to the point we’re not actually more connected, we’re feeding into our own alienation. Michelle’s innate desire to ‘not cause a scene’ only makes life harder and disconnects her from human emotion and, in turn, others.
“Is that a rule?”
“No, it’s just how I play the game.”
Another prominent disconnect in the film is between women driven to compete with one another by patriarchal society. Michelle and Linda are divided by far more than postmodern technology. They represent specific opposing gender roles forced on women. Michelle is the meek, mild wife who wants to have a baby, who just wants to go along to get along even if she suspects her husband doesn’t want a baby (among his other many issues), who stays quiet rather than speak her mind. Then there’s Linda, forced into the archetype of an outspoken older woman driven to hysteria because she can’t have babies anymore, the worn out Hollywood image of a spinster.
The characters are hyperbolic, raising a darkly comic tone to the heights of satire. Competition between women only hurts women, which is where the horror elements of Gayne’s film serve as big, bloody exclamation points. Linda and Michelle fight tooth and nail, going through physical and psychological abuse in order to best the other. The most bloody moment— when Linda cuts out Michelle’s tongue— is a brutal image of internalised misogyny as Linda figuratively / (all-too)literally silences another woman.
Apart from female struggles, Homewrecker likewise focuses on struggles of power.
Bear with a theory here, won’t you?
Linda expresses to Michelle at one point there are inherent power dynamics / structures to relationships: “It‘s about who‘s in control, who‘s in charge and who‘s not.” Much of this has to do with Michelle’s marriage and the realisation her husband has been cheating on her with Linda— both the husband and Linda hold power over her. There are also potentially unsettling power dynamics between Linda and the husband, Robert (Kris Siddiqi). He met Linda when he was maybe too young— “I was young and you were…” he trails off in the last scene. Father Gore believes she seduced Robert when he was underage. In the last scene, Robert and Linda talk about their long relationship. He laments she’s controlled his whole life. The tone of their conversation suggests a control born out of power that begin far too early in his life.
Combine this with the older woman’s creepy qualities. Like the fact she’s obsessed with the 1985 movie Girls Just Want to Have Fun and watches it on VHS constantly. Or that she listens to oldies on a cassette player while doing Jane Fonda-style workouts, and has a room decorated like a pre-teen girl would’ve loved in the ’80s. It’s as if Linda is trapped in the past by something powerful, like trauma. The way it seems, it was trauma she caused after leaving a sheltered high school world, where she was “fucking popular” and “pretty enough to be a fucking model,” only to discover she wasn’t actually popular and considered average. Might’ve led her to find somebody younger over whom she’d have control. Only a theory, but would explain so much, and if it’s an entirely unintended reading on this writer’s part it still adds a whole other ghastly layer. Does the Party Hunks board game really do Linda any favours?
There have been some fantastic films at the festival this year. Near the top is Gayne’s Homewrecker. It hits with the force of a goddamn sledgehammer. Essoe plays Michelle with such sweetness it brings qualities to which we can relate in her over-the-top kind character, and Chong infuses an unhinged character like Linda with delightful energy that, against all odds, draws sympathy at times. Their contributions to the screenplay make their characters seem all the more full, because among the hilarious hyperbole in these two women there remains a needed sense these caricatures really do represent real people. This requires an acknowledgement there are pressing social issues embedded in this funny, weird, and horrific film. Michelle and Linda’s bloody battle is symbolic of how our society pushes, and outright encourages, women to tear each other apart. The best fiction entertains with one hand and hammers home a message with the other. Homewrecker does it all.