Running Time: 98 mins
Director: Jakob M. Erwa
Cast: Esther Maria Pietsch, Matthias Lier and Tatja Seibt
(Belfast Film Festival Screening)
Jessica, a young cello student, moves in with her boyfriend Lorenz to a new flat and shortly after is chosen to represent her country in a prestigious music competition in Russia. The pressure to perform well soon becomes overwhelming and there is no telling between reality and imagination anymore.
The weight of Homesick is undoubtedly on Esther Maria Pietsch shoulders. Her Jessica, an ambitious music student who lives to please – parents, neighbours, teachers – is the only well-developed and relatable character of the film. As the story progresses, we delve deeper and deeper into her mind, soon to discover we are being tricked into believing Jessica’s new witch-like neighbour is spying on her and plotting a horrific ordeal. Or are we..?
The oppressor in question (Tatja Seibt as Hilde Domweber) gives the best performance of the film with Jessica’s spineless, and quite frankly often annoying boyfriend Lorenz (Matthias Lier) reduced to a sound-board for the girl’s scattered thoughts.
Even though far from original, HomeSick uses great plot devices throughout the film, from a welcoming gift of a guardian angel statue, fobbed off by increasingly suspicious Jessica, to the almost proverbial Chekhov’s gun. What’s great about HomeSick though is the many inspired moments when cinematography is the key witness to Jessica’s torment and the camera takes its time to tell the story: the tense atmosphere of being trapped and watched like a zoo animal escalates through the camera work which stops over the monochromatic and empty corners of her confinement.
Minimalistic music adds to the tension with explosions of bold Bach, the subject of Jessica’s success and then inevitable failure, intertwined with the eerie sounds of a cello bow scraping the instrument. With the latter being the background of the opening credits, we are all well-prepped for the atrocities to come.
Although it works hard to sustain the tension, HomeSick lacks a break, even a brief focus on emotions other than fear, apprehensiveness or anxiety which would naturally contribute to greater escalation of the aforementioned – you simply cannot hold the whole film on one note.
Having said that, the film manages to step up on the hold-you-by-the-throat ladder towards the end when a completely transformed Jessica reaches her breaking point.
It’s commendable to see a film which is not afraid to defy the shouty and jumpy thriller mould filled by so many as it succeeds in unfolding a truly gripping story in just 100 minutes. Jakob M. Erwa, writer and director of HomeSick, has done just that. All the shortcomings of the first two-thirds of the film are forgiven by the intense and surprising ending.
Comparisons to Polanski’s Repulsion (or even Rosemary’s Baby) and Aronofsky’s Black Swan spring to mind quite early on and, even though Homesick fails to improve upon the tense atmosphere of the former and the portrayal of a sick mind in the latter, this German take on one’s descent into madness does leave you wondering, if not horrified.