HE'S OUT THERE
starring Yvonne Strahovski, Anna Pniowsky, Abigail Pniowsky, Ryan McDonald
written by Mike Scannell
directed by Quinn Lasher
HELL IS WHERE THE HOME IS
starring Angela Trimbur, Janel Parrish, Jonathan Howard, Fairuza Balk
written by Corey Deshon
directed by Orson Oblowitz
by Walter Chaw Centring on the manipulation of a mysterious and sinister children's book, Babadook-style, Quinn Lasher's sleek, technically proficient home-invasion/slasher flick He's Out There takes another page out of that film's playbook by putting kids (sisters Anna and Abigail Pniowsky) uncompromisingly and repeatedly in mortal peril. The set-up is a wilderness retreat to the lake house in the woods, where mom Laura (Yvonne Strahovski) is headed with her moppets in tow, her workaholic hubby Owen (Julian Bailey) promising to meet up with them later. This leaves our heroine alone with her kids and that creepy kids' book along with a story told by yokel Shawn (Justin Bruening) about horrific happenings at the ol' house, plus a missing kid (Ryan McDonald) who never was found, now that you mention it.
Better is Orson Oblowitz's giallo-influenced Hell Is Where the Home Is, which introduces its night of home-invasion horrors with a more innocuous kind of intrusion and, internally, a much more insidious one. From the outside, an irritating neighbour played by Fairuza Balk (!) shows up at the AirBnB where our quartet of victims is doing blow and screwing in the hot tub. Claiming that her car's broken down, she lingers and lingers, raising anxieties not necessarily for being an intruder, but because her presence is tripping out alpha bro Victor (Jonathan Howard). Victor beats his girlfriend, Estelle (Janel Parrish). For her part, she knows he's bad news but is afraid to leave him. She also knows he's going to kill her. It's complicated. Corey Deshon's screenplay paints the relationship with full respect for that complexity. Estelle isn't a bad person for staying--she's a flawed individual who seems to be listening to her best friend Sarah (Angela Trimbur) on this trip, finally, but what if Sarah finds out that Estelle's slept with her boyfriend, Joseph (Zach Avery)? For their part, Sarah and Joseph are dealing with their own intimacy issues. A love scene early on ends in tears. It's hard to watch for its intimacy and the empathy the cast and crew bring to the sequence. It couldn't have been easy to film. Sarah and Joseph have suffered a miscarriage in the recent past and they're both painful reminders of that for each other now. Without saying it, this getaway is, for all of them, an attempt to heal.
When the visitor shows up at the door, Victor doesn't want to let her in. He says something about the evil of the world, but the truth is more complicated than that, I think. Abusers don't like to be witnessed and he's about to be revealed as a low man. Once the first of many somethings terrible happens, Victor gets a gun and gains the bully position over everyone else. Then the cops show up. And then something else shows up, too. All of it's this delicious riff on male toxicity, gender relations, trust in authority figures, and the fallen state of the universe. Hell Is Where the Home Is refers to that idea that there's no hell beyond that which we're suffering already, sure, but closer to the bone it says that the demons are often in our communities if we're lucky; in our houses if we're not. There's a sense of familiarity and fatalism embedded in the picture. I love that its main motif is a photograph in a bath of chemicals in their rental's darkroom that slowly, like the printout in No Way Out, develops over the course of the picture. The kills, when they come, are inventive and disgusting, but the afterimage is the movie's absolute empathy with its women protagonists: broken, grieving, they find a reason to move on, and there's more courage in that resilience than in any number of masculine feats of strength. Hell Is Where the Home Is is a good genre exercise, and an even better mission statement for a director and screenwriter bound for big things.