Following the breakout success of Paranormal Activity in 2007, found-footage horror hit its stride in the late aughts. Cloverfield, Quarantine, Troll Hunter, and The Poughkeepsie Tapes followed over the next couple of years. Since the 2000s, found-footage continues to adapt and evolve, even if its big franchises gassed out years ago. Lost in the shuffle of the mid- to late-aughts, Home Movie quietly made its way through film festivals before IFC Films and Anchor Bay Entertainment distributed it on DVD and VOD platforms. With its mix of ‘family-made videos’ and the usually reliable creepy kids formula, Home Movie earned modest praise from those who saw it. Too bad not enough people saw this chiller when it first released.
Struggling to raise their 10-year-old twins Jack and Emily, David and Clare Poe have moved into a remote home in the woods of upstate New York. Despite their young age, Jack and Emily have demonstrated a disturbing pattern of antisocial behaviour. From animal cruelty to booby-trapping the house, the twins challenge and confound their parents at every turn. While Clare, a psychotherapist, believes she can diagnose and medicate the children, her husband David, a pastor, thinks there is an evil force at work. As they each document their efforts to save their children through home movies, time may be running out before the twins escalate to a point of no return.
Home Movie Aptly Blends Found-Footage With Creepy Kids For Disturbing Results
After its debut at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, Home Movie quietly make its way to VOD platforms. Maybe its straightforward approach to found-footage horror made it hard for the thriller to distinguish itself. Regardless Home Movie is a disturbing mix of ‘Bad Seed‘ and found-footage. Writer and director Christopher Denham (Preservation) keeps things simple perfectly marrying the subgenres. While most theatrical creepy kid movies opt for increasingly implausible – and bigger – scenarios over their runtime, Home Movie grounds itself with quietly unsettling moments that Denham methodically dials up.
Regardless Home Movie is a disturbing mix of ‘Bad Seed‘ and found-footage.
And this is where the found-footage format works so well. Without standard cinematic markers like a background score or quick edits to let us know that it’s ‘just a movie’, the horrors on screen here feel real. Nothing feels wildly improbable. This is what makes good found-footage so effective when it’s done properly. While Denham doesn’t do anything different, he works well with the medium and the result is a well-paced and often upsetting horror movie. Whether it’s evidence of animal cruelty or seeing the twins quietly tying down a friend with a plastic bag over his head, Home Movie consistently makes you feel like you’re watching something you shouldn’t be seeing.
Home Movie Can’t Quite Escape Some of the Format’s Limitations
Not surprisingly, however, Home Movie suffers from similar problems in logic as most found-footage horror movies. On its face, Denham’s decision to frame the movie as a collection of ‘home movies’ seems about as clever as any setup using the found-footage format. Of course, most parents spend their time coaxing kids to smile for ‘make believe’ happy moments rather than documenting their worst parenting nightmares. To some extent, Denham makes this a minor issue by working the camera into the story as part of Clare’s desire to document the treatment of her own children. Nonetheless, Home Movie inevitably falls into the trap of characters filming things well past the point of danger.
Nonetheless, Home Movie inevitably falls into the trap of characters filming things well past the point of danger.
Generally, characters and performances usually take a backseat in found-footage movies. Maybe the ‘faux documentary’ feel of the subgenre prepares us for characters who, like real people, may be annoying or frustrating. On the contrary, Adrian Pasdar and Cady McClain, playing husband and wife David and Clare, are largely likable protagonists. While Pasdar conveys a desperate optimism and McClain clings to professional diagnoses and rigor, they genuinely feel like parents willing to overlook even the worst warning signs out of love. Real-life twins Amber and Austin Williams check off all the prerequisites for the creepy kids subgenre.
Home Movie a Hidden Gem for Fans of Either Found-Footage or Creepy Kids Movies
Home Movie makes a strong case for the argument that ‘less is more’. No, Denham doesn’t do anything new with the found-footage format. In fact, this is a pretty ‘by the numbers’ take on both the ‘creepy kids’ and found-footage subgenres. But the minimalist execution works perfectly from start to finish. That is, Home Movie is a truly disturbing movie that benefits from the conceit of its collection of faux ‘home movies’. That is, the found-footage approach heightens the discomfort that the subject matter elicits. While it’s pretty basic stuff, Home Movie absolutely accomplishes what it sets out to do – creep audiences out.