SXSW 2014 Review: ‘Home’ Is Not Even Worth Seeing In the Comfort Of Your Own

By  · Published on March 14th, 2014

Home, where all thought’s escaping. Home, where unexplained scenes are playing. Home, where all I love about movies lies waiting silently for me outside the theater.

Taking the phrase “all style, no substance” to the extreme, Nicholas McCarthy’s new horror feature, Home, is almost not even categorically a movie. It’s a lot of shots without direction and a plot without a story. Yet it’s hardly a work of experimental film. There’s nothing at all interesting in the visuals we are given to look at – too many inserts of extreme close-ups on people’s faces, mostly nostrils, and the usual mirror-based jump scares. Its worst offense is probably casting Oscar-nominated actress Catalina Sandino Moreno in what seems to be a lead role and then giving her very little to do, but its crimes are aplenty. If I wanted to nitpick, I’m guessing I had at least one issue a minute with it.

Home begins with a young woman (Ashley Rickards) playing a shell game in the desert and winning a roll of cash from a mysterious old man. Once home, her wardrobe starts making noises, something invisible bursts out of it and she’s violently levitating in her room. We then jump a few decades into the present – not that McCarthy uses any device to tell us this – and meet a real estate agent (Sandino Moreno) hired to sell the home and, primarily for our sake, tasked with trying to find out what happened there. And she has a sister (Naya Rivera) who winds up being the third main character in a film that has trouble finding its true leading lady. That’s actually intentional, for reasons I won’t spoil, and the one clever idea behind the whole thing. It was probably the idea that started the script in the first place.

Like too many horror movies, though, Home tries to get away with only having that one good concept and then coasting on it. Everything around it is inexplicable filler, from the old man and cash roll in the beginning to the strange burn marks in the house that have no purpose to an odd babysitting scene that almost works as an independent vignette but has absolutely no connection to the rest of the plot. This is a movie with a lot of mystery and not enough solution. With so many separate moments that don’t add up or don’t appear to matter in the end, the whole thing winds up a hodgepodge of familiar scary movie tropes and tricks that are lazily strewn together just to give the audience something to watch.

There is enough creepy atmosphere and suspense here to consider McCarthy as a better director than writer, but a good director is not merely an artist who can create mood. He needs to be conscious of the bigger picture and move things along rather than just concentrating on details in the various pieces. And to save himself from those script flaws, he should recognize when his actors aren’t helping matters with their wooden delivery of stiff expository dialogue. Horror deserves more than a feeling of terror, because that feeling is nothing if the audience is not invested in the characters and story and identifies with some semblance of a world the movie is set in, and with the fears that haunt that space.

Normally I would walk away from a movie like Home and dismiss it, never thinking of it again. But having spent the time watching it, I want answers and I want a movie that obviously wants to be unconventional in its storytelling to make the effort to actually tell the story. I’m sure it’s too late for McCarthy to go back and fix things to make the at least mediocre feature this had the promise to be. Maybe someone can remake it in 20 years and pad the parts in need and improve upon the original. I feel like this is the exact kind of horror movie that deserves that.

The Upside: It starts out intriguingly enough; the chain of female protagonists concept is kinda neat

The Downside: Never delivers on that intrigue; terrible script, from stiff dialogue to a lack of a fully developed story; an ending that isn’t really an ending

On The Side: Child actress Ava Acres, who has a small but significant part, has a lengthy resume for voice acting work, her credits including Frozen, Wreck-It-Ralph and Despicable Me 2.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.