Running Time: 98 mins
Director: Jakob M. Erwa
Cast: Esther Maria Pietsch, Matthias Lier and Tatja Seibt
Ambitious cello student Jessica receives the invitation to an international contest. A great opportunity – but at the same time enormous pressure. Stress begins to gnaw on Jessica’s everyday life and soon reality and imagination blur.
Foreplay is underrated. It’s kind of a lost art these days. We live in an instant gratification world and it’s gotten to the point where, in life as much as cinema, we all just want you to drop your pants and show us your…insert genitalia of your choice. The deed itself is over pretty quickly and we move on to the next thing rather unceremoniously. Disney’s Marvel movies, for example, have no foreplay. And they’re utterly forgettable. But that’s an unfair target possibly; most movies that hit the cinema these days rarely let up the pace and allow their films to breathe, even just a little.
Foreplay if done correctly, however, can linger long after the deed is done. Time really isn’t taken for the small details and it’s the small details that matter sometimes. Especially whenever it comes to fu…film.
Movies don’t really do foreplay anymore. The slow, sensual build up is a lost art, in cinema as much as life, but there are still a few practitioners of this titillating technique. Jakob M. Erwa is one such practitioner and his third feature, HomeSick, is very much about the slow build, the lingering on the small details that normally don’t get enough attention.
HomeSick begins somewhat ominously as we see our main character, Jessica, in the centre of the frame wandering, spectre-like, across an urban landscape and it’s obvious something is not quite right. She phones someone on her cell phone to tell them that it’s quiet and there is peace at home again. We then abruptly cut to an empty apartment and we see a much different and brighter looking Jessica as she and her partner settle into their new home.
It isn’t long before we meet fellow tenant and unofficial caretaker of the building Hilde (a perfectly cast Tatja Seibt) asking her new neighbours to keep the noise down and from here it’s one long, slow simmering of tensions. Erwa’s great feat in this film is that he is very exact when it comes to the framing, the slow pan shots or even just to allow the camera to be still and linger for a while. Ostensibly this film could be categorized as a psychological drama or maybe even a psychological horror film and the American tendency (with some notable exceptions) is to overdo things and rely on camera tricks and score to generate tension or frenzy.
Erwa eschews all of these trappings and focuses on little things – like the way Hilde stares a particular way at Jessica when conversing with her and her husband or the occult-ish looking welcoming gift Hilde gives to Jessica – and all of these gestures and seemingly minor things escalate until you really don’t know if Jessica is going crazy or if there actually is something more sinister and possibly other-worldly going on.
Indicative of this atmosphere, there’s a brilliant scene towards the end where coffee is being made and Erwa really takes his time to focus on how the coffee is being filtered and you have this nagging feeling things are going to boil over at any second and there’s clearly a delight on the director’s part in building up to that climax.
And it’s an interesting finish to say the least. It’s tempting to draw parallels with Polanski (Apologies to the folks who get a little icked out hearing his name, I’m with ya there) and the ambiguity of what’s going on in Rosemary’s Baby. Jessica isn’t pregnant but she does have a prestigious music competition to prepare for and she’s clearly under pressure and what’s left to the audience to decide is whether or not she’s having a mental break down or if Hilde really does have dark motives.
The film HomeSick reminded me most of was Karyn Kusama’s sublime The Invitation (2015) where you genuinely don’t know if the central character is having a breakdown or if he’s seeing something the other’s don’t. Again, that film took its time and allowed the film to breathe and gradually and impeccably build to an unforgettable dénouement.
HomeSick isn’t as good as The Invitation but Erwa expertly crafts a fine psychological drama out of taking a slow and methodical approach to creating tension and paranoia as Jessica’s capacious new apartment slowly morphs into an unbearable and claustrophobic prison. The acting from Seibt’s Hilde and Esther Maria Pietsch’s Jessica is perfectly pitched too as neither put a foot wrong in playing to somewhat familiar tropes.
Some may find the slow build to be plodding, and it does drag in parts, but it does reward your attention and you will talk about that climatic last shot – and you don’t get there without all that foreplay. Homesick might not be the best you’ve ever had but it will linger in the memory. You can’t say that about the last Avengers movie.
Homesick is an eerie and unsettling film that, whilst slow at times and somewhat familiar genre wise, will leave an impression on you. A haunting slow burn that will make you think twice about what you’ve just seen.
Homesick is showing as part of the Banterflix Film Society’s inaugural Dark Hedges Movie Club. The screening starts at 9pm on Friday 31st March at the Beanbag Cinema. Tickets cost £6 and can be booked through the Belfast Film Festival or Visit Belfast box-office.