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Fantastic Fest 2019: “Homewrecker” Film Review

Zach Gayne’s dark horror-comedy may not be quite what you expect from its outset. The film stars Alex Essoe as Michelle and Precious Chong as Linda; they worked with Gayne, the director, to write the screenplay. As you might expect, the result is that “Homewrecker” feels lived-in and contained. The run time is only about 75 minutes, and you don’t need more time to tell this story artfully.

As the film begins, we see that Michelle and Linda are in the same yoga class and the same dance class — and it doesn’t appear to be a coincidence. Chong’s portrayal of the obsessive Linda is top-notch. It’s hard to imagine not feeling unsettled by this strange, energetic woman who wants so badly to interact with you. But Michelle does what many women would: She avoids confrontation by going along with it.

If you’ve ever watched “30 Rock,” you may be familiar with Jack Donaghy’s advice to “never go with a hippie to a second location.” While Linda is not outwardly a ‘hippie,’ that advice would’ve been great for Michelle, who finds herself in too deep before very long. Linda doesn’t want her new friend to leave, but will she really not allow it? It seems the answer to that is a resounding ‘yes.’

If you’ve seen 1992’s “Single White Female” or 2011’s “The Roommate,” you might think you know what’s coming. Yes, Linda is obsessed with Michelle, but it’s more than that. She doesn’t want to be Michelle; she wants to be around Michelle. There is a sort-of twist in the third act related to this urge that isn’t hard to see coming, but it’s not Linda’s sole reason for doing any of what she does. The scariest thing about that character is that she’s illogical and unpredictable.

“Homewrecker” is heavier on tension than gore, but you won’t be completely spared of the latter. There’s a scene (again, in the third act) that made me gasp and wince as it happened.

Gayne never uses the camera to objectify the leads, but their bodies are a focus of the film. It’s interesting to see how these two petite women fight. Most importantly, it never feels unrealistic. As mentioned above, they’re taking fitness classes and they’re shown working out. Seeing women onscreen with real, everyday physical strength is surprisingly refreshing. This is not a young woman going up against a large man in a mask; these characters feel evenly matched.

Another thing that makes “Homewrecker” stand out is the score. It’s an original, guitar-laden soundtrack from Built to Spill frontman Doug Martsch, and it’s beautiful. Often using a more acoustic sound, it sometimes veers into wild electric territory to fit the action onscreen, making for a seamless experience.

All in all, this is an impressive and enjoyable satire, with a small cast that gives their all in these performances. It’ll leave you thinking about it for days afterward.

The second Fantastic Fest screening of “Homewrecker” is on Tuesday, September 24, at 2 p.m.

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