Maybe you haven’t watched Can Evrenol’s first film, Baskin, yet. If you’d like to do that before reading on, I’ll wait.
That was nuts, huh? Maybe you’ll want a palette cleanser after that, something more thoughtful or, perhaps, more deliberate. Well, Evernol’s second feature (and his first in English), Housewife, might be right up your alley. Or maybe you really liked the balls-to-the-wallness of Baskin and don’t really need much more story with your garish, nightmarish imagery than that movie provided. In any case, Housewife is a respectably ambitious step forward for Evrenol, even if it stumbles at times.
Holly (Clementine Poidatz) is dealing with some deep shit, fully depicted in Housewife’s opening scenes that leave no stab or kill to the imagination, that revolve around her sister’s murder at the hands of her deranged mother. Understandably, Holly still experiences waking nightmares surrounding this horror even years later, and it’s clear that she is emotionally stunted in several ways. At a dinner party, Holly and her husband are told about a Scientology-esque organization called the Umbrella of Love and Mind that’s having a conference in town, and one of the attendees is a long-lost friend and roommate that has a mysterious connection to them, and are encouraged to attend as a lark.
At the conference, with it’s slickly-produced videos and equally-slick and charismatic leader, Bruce O’Hara (David Sakurai), Holly is entranced by the group and is touched by O’Hara. This is where the movie splits in interpretation. What happens next is either a revelation for Holly as a predestined martyr for the group’s apocalyptic vision, or a complete dissociative break from reality. At no point after this in Housewife, is it clear which is which, and as a viewer, it scared the hell out of me.
Playing on some of the same themes of Baskin’s opener, Evrenol expertly lays out the harrowing events from Holly’s perspective in a way that reminds me of the twisted fairy-tale style of a Guillermo Del Toro circa Pan’s Labyrinth. Ultimately, I found myself thinking a lot about how Holly’s trauma is both shaped and directed by the men she encounters (other than the original trauma brought on by her mother), and how little agency she’s given throughout the film. She’s basically steered through the events of Housewife like a vehicle for despair.
The otherworldly aesthetic, sitting somewhere nearby Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy in your collection of red/blue horror flicks from the past year, emphasizes the dreamlike quality of Holly’s experiences, slowly normalizing the surreal sights onscreen until you’re suddenly faced with some of the most hellish sequences the genre has produced in a while. Unlike Baskin, which was an animalistic, violently sexual experience, Housewife takes it’s time with it’s erotic imagery, allowing (or forcing) you to savour it, even when the taste is as bitter as it gets.
Evrenol is nothing if not a student of the horror game, and Housewife plays out like a highlight reel of his influences – Fulci, Argento, Polanski, and more than a little Lovecraft are all represented here in both aesthetic and story – while retaining its own style. The last few minutes of the film are a love letter to practical effects (some of the best I’ve seen all year), even if their storyline implications and explanations are left frustratingly vague.
In my opinion, Evrenol bites off slightly more than he can chew in Housewife, with his actors doing their best with a complex story and vying for your attention against some of the most intense visuals in horror this year, all while speaking a language that isn’t their first. It’s awkward, though his leads in Poidatz and Sakurai are up to the task even if the rest of the cast might struggle. The stilted dialogue and a synth-heavy score by Antoni Maiovvi gives Housewife a pulpy 70’s Eurotrash vibe that I’m not sure is completely intentional, but which works for me, especially when things go deliciously off the rails in the film’s climax.
No one will ever say, about Housewife, that Can Evrenol’s retreading the same ground as he did with Baskin, or that he hasn’t shown growth as a filmmaker. His vision is aggressive but mature, and will be the perfect crowd-pleaser (provided you have access to a crowd of hardcore horror sickos) this Halloween.
Housewife drops on DVD, Digital HD, and VOD from RLJE Films on October 2. We reviewed the DVD version.