Actress Alexandra Essoe (Starry Eyes) makes her move into feature film writer with Zach Gayne’s directorial debut, Homewrecker. It’s a lively and entertaining Canadian horror-thriller that embraces its deep roots in the category of indie film.
Homewrecker follows Michelle (Essoe), a young interior designer who gets roped into a sudden and highly toxic relationship with eclectic and exuberant Linda (Precious Chong). After the two have a brief interaction at their shared gym, Linda finds Michelle in a local coffee shop and is determined to be fast friends. Linda’s enthusiasm quickly morphs into obsession while Michelle frantically tries to find a polite excuse to leave. Michelle’s discomfort turns to terror as Linda amps up the crazy, trapping Michelle in her home for a twisted tête-à-tête.
Homewrecker explores our inherent tolerance and patience, questioning at what point we listen to those warning bells and see those red flags. When do we just say “fuck politeness” and get the hell out of there? It’s not an easy answer (especially in Canadian society; being polite is our natural state).
Michelle doesn’t quite know when to say no, which spurs Linda on in her motorcade of personality. She opens herself up by sharing intimate details that only cause Michelle to shrink away as she’s hounded by this barrage of positivity. It’s easy to feel Michelle’s discomfort — Linda is sharing a lot, very quickly — and it’s no stretch to empathize with her in this awkward situation.
There’s a “Chekhov’s gun” moment as Linda is leading Michelle through her home, which the astute observer will appreciate. This dramatic principle states that if – in the first act – you have a pistol on the wall, it must be fired in the following act. A wall-mounted sledgehammer serves as a representation of Linda’s growth and progress thus far (making you wonder what she was like before the hours of therapy and personal breakthroughs). It’s an object that is so comically out of place that there’s no way it won’t come back to serve some violent purpose.
For all its earnest efforts, Homewrecker stumbles through stiff blocking and clunky direction. The script is the standout here, and it does a lot of the heavy lifting. It contains a certain honesty and quippy humor that are actually quite endearing.
Essoe falls naturally into the role of Michelle; it’s easy to empathize with the character as you cringe along with the awkward early stages of her journey. Chong is rather convincing in her role, leaning in to Linda’s off-kilter, manic energy. She pushes herself right to the edge and wavers there, hovering dangerously between harmlessly quirky and full-blown maniac.
The pacing is a bit wild, with an impromptu third act musical number that’s just so absurd that it actually kind of works. The action feels over-rehearsed, which — while far safer — doesn’t do a ton of favors for realism.
That said, it’s refreshing to see a thriller that focuses almost entirely on two women and their relationship. It’s notable that Homewrecker focuses on Linda, a character that’s just past her young buxom ingenue years, but whose youthful energy is maintained and exaggerated in a way that is often encouraged by Pinterest boards and cheeky clip art. Fridge magnets reading “Well behaved women often make history” and drink straws adorned with “Liquid therapy” litter her home, painting her in an innocent and “fun” light that’s misleadingly coy.
Produced on a modest budget, Homewrecker is uniquely Canadian. Torontonians will likely recognize some of the filming locations, but, more than that, the signature Canadian politeness is the catalyst for Michelle’s whole ordeal. There are several opportunities for her to leave (or not even enter in the first place), but she – like Linda’s neighbor – ignores the red flags that are frantically waving in front of her in favor of playing along and not saying no. It’s a cautionary tale in engaging with strangers.
While it lacks the polish of a studio film, Homewrecker is an entertaining and quick story (it clocks in at just under 75 minutes), easily digestible as an afternoon snack. The cinematography, direction, and the performances are just what you’d expect from a small indie film, but there’s something charming about it. If you’re looking to expand your cinematic social circle beyond studio hits and popular indie titles, give it a chance, you might find a new friend.