Movies and television have a long history of strong, likable anti-heroes who bend and break the law, cross morally questionable boundaries, and generally behave in a highly inappropriate manner. Falling Down‘s D-Fens, Escape From NY‘s Snake Plissken, Taxi Driver‘s Travis Bickle, Dirty Harry‘s Harry Callahan… these are characters at odds with the world around them who take matters into their own hands and do terrible things, and yet we love them until the very end.
But can an anti-hero go too far? Can an otherwise likable, sympathetic, and cheer-worthy character cross an irreversible line?
Cheng Lai Sheung (Josie Ho) has had a singular dream since she was a young girl living in Hong Kong. One day she’s going to buy a condo overlooking the harbor, and it will be big enough to share with her family without anyone having to share a room. As an adult she’s inching closer to achieving the dream with a healthy savings account and an apartment already picked out at the luxurious Victoria Bay high-rise.
But then her father gets sick, and the insurance won’t cover his medical bills, and prices in the real estate market continue to blossom, and she can’t quite get a mortgage loan even from the bank where she works… and soon Sheung’s dream is slipping further and further away from reality.
So she takes matters into her own hands in an effort to reduce the cost of her dream home. And if that means reducing the number of neighbors in the building along with it? Sometimes you have to get dirty before you can get clean in your large bathroom with glass-enclosed shower and floor to ceiling windows overlooking the beautiful harbor below.Dream Home is an explicitly gory and extremely violent film. It also happens to be a smart commentary on the financial and societal pressures weighing on people in densely populated cities. Sheung has lived with her brother and parents all her life, and while she has fond memories of their waterside home as a child she also recalls being forced to move to a cramped apartment inside the city by government-authorized thugs. Since then she’s worked multiple jobs and avoided much in the way of a social life in an effort to save enough money to buy the apartment. She finds a small amount of misguided joy in an illicit relationship with a married man, but even that takes a backseat to her singular goal.
The horror and the commentary play out in alternating beats throughout the film as it moves back and forth between Sheung’s nightmarish assault on Victoria Bay and flashbacks showing her life and struggles to reach this point. Her plight is heartbreaking at times in the flashbacks, made all the more affecting by Ho’s fragile performance. But it’s contrasted sharply with her present day actions as she works her way methodically through several apartments (and multiple tenants) in the building.
The film opens with a sleeping security guard garroted with a zip tie, but like many of the kills here this isn’t a fast death. He writhes, slices at his own neck in an attempt to cut the plastic band, and slowly dies before our eyes. He’s the first of many, but his murder is one of the tamer in regard to the cruelty and gore on display. Further details will be spared so viewers can experience the graphic joys for themselves, but trust me when I say no one is safe from Sheung’s intense and focused rage. Aside from a couple brief instances of CGI assistance the practical effects work here from Andrew Lin is delightfully gory and enjoyable for fans of the wet stuff.
There’s a fine line between sympathetic anti-heroes that work and those that don’t. Dream Home doesn’t just cross that line… it disembowels it with a large butcher knife, suffocates it, cuts off its dick, and then blows its brains out. It’s difficult for a character to recover from that kind of behavior, but Ho and director Pang Ho-Cheung make a pretty valiant attempt. Does it work? Viewers will draw their own line, but regardless of which side they land on there’s no denying the film is an entertaining affair filled with as many valid and powerful emotions as it is loose intestines and dismembered body parts.
Dream Home is currently available On Demand from IFCMidnight.
The Upside: Bloody, violent, and brutal; more drama and back story than usual slasher film gets; blackly comic conclusion; Josie Ho creates a character both sympathetic and terrifying
The Downside: Protagonist crosses the line early and moves from likable antihero to unforgivable mad woman