Parents tend to get the children they deserve. This is a broad generalization-terrific parents can raise terrible kids, and vice versa-but for the most part, you get out what you put into child-rearing. Show your little ones respect, treat them with compassion, and they’ll grow into respectful, compassionate people. Horror movies don’t play to generalizations. They play to extremes. Hence we have the “creepy kid” horror niche, where adults, accustomed to the post of authority figure in the parent-child dynamic, suffer a role-reversal and find that they don’t like it very much, objecting mostly to the “creepy” part. Sebastian Godwin’s Homebound diverges slightly from that model; the kids are very creepy, but watch how they’re parented and the creepiness makes sense.
It isn’t even that teens Lucia (Hattie Gotobed) and Ralph (Lukas Rolfe), and their younger sister Anna (Raffiella Chapman), are particularly weird or fearsome. They’re mostly just cagey toward and suspicious of Holly (Aisling Loftus), new bride of their macho dad Richard (Tom Goodman-Hill). The movie commences as the pair drive to Richard’s country manse, where Holly meets the kids for the first time. Anna, wide-eyed and winsome, is a pleasant enough hostess. Lucia and Ralph behave in prototypical teenage fashion: With barely an acknowledgment of their father or Holly. Uncomfortable, but normal enough.
Then the kids slaughter a goose at Richard’s encouragement, right before Holly’s eyes. Richard preps the bird for dinner, where all three of his children, including Anna, toss back too much champagne—“too much” here meaning “a single sip.” The atmosphere is, again, uncomfortable, but as odd as the family may be, this seems to work for them. It’s not until the day after that the oddity melts into menace. Sinister things are happening at this house. Champagne is one matter. More pressing is the matter of the kids’ mother, who, per a text to Richard, left them alone in assurance of Richard and Holly’s imminent arrival. Seems fishy. Then there’s Richard himself, who initially plays the part of devoted, loving father and husband, but slowly devolves into a figure that better resembles a caveman.
Godwin breaks no new ground in Homebound: He zigs where other movies like it might zag, as if they’re following Google Maps and he’s plugged into Waze, winding through side streets. But what’s special about his work is baked into tone and sensation. Even when easygoing, Homebound impresses a topsy-turviness on the audience, not enough to be disorienting but certainly enough to knock anybody watching off-kilter. The text is clear: This isn’t an average family. But the restless, unmoored camerawork, provided by cinematographer Sergi Vilanova, inculcates the film with a serious case of the jitters even before Richard and Holly get to the house. Call Homebound predictable if you must-there’s really only one place a movie like this will end up-but Godwin takes such swift advantage of Vilanova’s photography that what’s “predictable” nearly becomes incalculable.
He is aided by Loftus, too, from whom Homebound’s lens never strays. She has the mighty task of functioning as the viewer’s anchor in the mounting pile of anomalies encountered in Richard’s home, and among Richard’s family: It’s up to her to heighten what’s off in their relationship (and so much is off) with her performance, and to make that nagging question of predictability moot. When the acting is this rich, layered and visceral, whether or not you can see where the movie is going doesn’t matter. Loftus catches us in the thrall of her own disbelief, rolling that emotion into anxiety and, by the climax, sheer terror. That she’s able to pull off this escalation in a scant 70 minutes without forcing those feelings is remarkable, which brings us back to Godwin.
The writer/director demonstrates a rare storytelling economy in his feature debut, leaving no trace of fat on Homebound’s bones and letting only the most essential elements shine. The effect of that simplicity is urgent: Nothing gets in the way of the chilling quality Godwin prizes so deeply. There are creepier kids in horror, from Children of the Corn to Them. There aren’t many creepy kid movies made with such confidence in their construction.
Director: Sebastian Godwin
Writer: Sebastian Godwin
Starring: Aisling Loftus, Tom Goodman-Hill, Raffiella Chapman, Hattie Gotobed, Lukas Rolfe
Release Date: May 13, 2022
Bostonian culture journalist Andy Crump covers the movies, beer, music, and being a dad for way too many outlets, perhaps even yours. He has contributed to Paste since 2013. You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected work at his personal blog. He’s composed of roughly 65% craft beer.