[Review] Homebound (2021)

Homebound (2021)

Dir. Sebastian Godwin

by Ellis Reed

With the support of the BFI and BBC Film, Sebastian Godwin has written and directed a very assured feature-length debut, in theatres today and on streaming from Monday.

In Homebound, Holly (Aisling Loftus) is going to the country, so she can meet the children and ex-wife of her new husband Richard (Tom Goodman-Hill). Understandably nervous, she brings flowers, profiteroles, and a birthday present for the youngest child – but when they arrive, the ex isn’t home. In a further snub, she declines to return, fobbing them off with a breezy pair of texts.

As far as Holly and Richard can see, she’s left the kids to fend for themselves. Of the three, the youngest (Raffiella Chapman) is by far the friendliest; she takes Holly in her stride and drags her off to meet some chinchillas. The older siblings (Lukas Rolfe and Hattie Gotobed) are, if not exactly hostile, certainly standoffish – and, as the drama proceeds, increasingly furtive.

The resulting chamber piece could be described as a domestic thriller. A lot of the tension – and there’s a lot of tension – comes from sheer social awkwardness. Holly is surprised, both by the situation itself and Richard’s laid-back response. He’s not alarmed by his ex-wife’s absence and lets the children drink a surprising amount of alcohol. This leads to the film’s most artistic sequence, where the group’s drunken revels – interspersed with shots of discarded bottles and the half-eaten birthday cake – are scored, non-diegetically, by one of Jeremy Warmsley’s haunting compositions.

During these passages, Loftus gives a very credible performance as someone who, despite their own discomfort, feels constrained in what they can say. ‘Your kids are interesting,’ she ventures on the first night – softening the blow (if there even is one) with smiles and kisses. Eventually, she observes: ‘it feels like things are a bit out of hand.’ Part of her reticence is personality-based, but part comes from her outsider status, constantly reinforced by the film. We sense that her husband comes from a moneyed background; his former house is clearly worth a bomb – there’s a cellar full of wine – and two of the children are grandly named Ralph and Lucia (the youngest, Anna, ‘loves champagne’). Holly isn’t the same as them. She speaks with a regional accent, frequently doubts herself, and says she ‘always wondered what it’s like to be part of a proper family.’ As you might expect from the genre, the tension slowly rises in pitch, moving from the social to the visceral, until the string finally snaps.

But the truth is, ‘domestic thriller’ doesn’t capture the tone of the film. As well as these vignettes of social anxiety, Homebound leans into spookier territory, borrowing tropes from supernatural drama. Ralph and Lucia play creepy duets on a piano – whatever they’re playing, it certainly isn’t Chopsticks – while Anna compulsively buries her dolls in the woods. The location adds a soupçon of gothic flare, and there are times when the camera wanders alone, pausing to linger on a gloomy hall or locked door. It’s a grand country pile, but the score, lighting and cinematography all conspire to make it seem strangely shabby, like it might always be too cold, or even smell faintly of damp. More than once, we find ourselves in the dark cellar, where a door conceals – what? Although you might guess at least part of the ending, you’re sure to be surprised by some of it. On the way there, the interplay of tones makes you consider a range of possibilities, some fantastical, others sad.

When you take the credits away, the film is barely more than an hour long, which makes the whole thing appealingly lean. Despite being brief, it’s very nicely crafted, holding interest with ominous mood, artful direction, and some very solid performances (Loftus, especially, does great work in her role).

To borrow a phrase from wine-tasting, Homebound might be short but it has a long, lingering finish. I very much enjoyed watching it, and in the days since, I find my thoughts keep returning to what I saw, including (but not limited to) the finale. Make an effort to see it on the big screen, to really savour the score and cinematography. If you can’t, stream it next week, because it’s well worth a watch – and if you’re still undecided, check out the trailer below.

Picture of Ellis Reed

Ellis Reed

Ellis Reed is the News Editor for Horrified. He also wrote some ghost stories during lockdown, which you can read for free on his blog.

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