The follow-up feature from ‘Baskin’s’ writer/director shows a preference for chaotic style over substance
“It’s dark and depressing…I mean, it’s beautiful.”
If you can only see one horror film in 2017 that’s about mysterious cults worshipping some tortured Uber Mother, spend your money on Housewife instead of mother! Housewife at least has face wearing, womb POV shots, and Cthulu tentacles creeping down from the heavens.
That introduction for Housewife does a fairly efficient job of illustrating how it’s such a batshit insane film, but one that’s well worth trying to wrap your mind around. The film begins with a haunting, heightened prologue piece that introduces the audience to a young Holly, who witnesses her mother murder her sister and father. Cut to twenty years later when an old friend from Holly’s past comes back into her life and suddenly all of this internalized trauma and old memories begin to come back to the surface. Holly and her husband quickly become indoctrinated into a cult called ULM—Umbrella of Love and Mind—that wastes no time in positioning Holly as some sort of savior. Soon this cult leader, Bruce O’Hara (David Sakurai), begins to turn Holly’s repressed memories into reality and scrambles up what she thinks she knows about her past.
Director and co-writer Can Evrenol did great things with his debut feature, Baskin, but his work here is even crazier. Housewife often feels like a sublime mash-up between Dario Argento and Mario Bava, with Italian horror from the ‘70s and ‘80s clearly being an influence here, as opposed to voices like Carpenter and Barker which helped Baskin find its voice. Evrenol takes to the influences perhaps a little too well with the film’s trippy, unconventional structure surely being too much for some people. Evrenol prefaced the film by telling the audience several times that Housewife is “very weird” and he speaks the truth.
Housewife is very much about Holly’s pained journey to make sense of her past. It’s a rather simple premise that Evrenol enriches by his surreal approach to it all. What follows is a sordid mix between dream logic and sadism that leaves the audience questioning everything that they think they know. Housewife frequently shows Holly’s present overlapping with her past as her narrative turns into a revolving door of dreams that she has to navigate through. In this sense, Housewife also keeps the audience guessing and trying to figure out what actually happened to Holly during her childhood and even, in the end, it’s left ambiguous.
Bruce O’Hara and ULM subject Holly to their “dream surfing” phenomenon, which is kind of like a mind meld of sorts. Or like any of the internal craziness that goes down in the first season of Legion. It’s basically the “shuffle” effect for memories. The Umbrella of Love and Mind meeting that Holly attends seems to have a bunch of images that mirror moments from her youth. The whole umbrella motif, for example, seems specifically there to be a reminder of the makeshift weapon Holly has to turn to as a child. Holly keeps on confronting these “apocalyptic visions” as Bruce tries to manifest control over her. It all gives a certain sense of weight to the final half of the film, too.
The film’s prologue poignantly segues from graphic death into Holly in the middle of having sex. The film continually juxtaposes sex and death and it becomes a consistent theme that culminates in a rather messy final act. A frequent symbol throughout the film is this childhood doll of Holly’s that she hangs onto as an adult. It’s this clear representation of innocence lost, but one of the few hobbies that Holly’s shown to have is perfecting furniture for her dollhouse. She’s still very much stuck in her childhood in a number of ways, which slowly begin to unravel.
More than anything though the film addresses how children are a trigger for Holly and the topic breaks her down in a number of different painful ways. Her resistance here connects to her trauma from her childhood, specifically the loss of her sister. Holly’s scar tissue from her youth is the whole point of the film, but it also gets to articulate itself in some more subtle examples of PTSD. For instance, Holly’s clear fear and reluctance to use toilets (because her sister drowned in one) is a great character detail that’s never pushed in the audience’s face. She feels very real as a result.
Through all of this frenetic chaos, Clémentine Poidatz, the actress behind Holly completely rises to the occasion and delivers a really powerful performance. This is a role where it would be very easy to crumble under the weight of the many things that happen to Holly. Poidatz absolutely nails all of this and is reason alone to check out this film.
In the film, ULM’s slogan appears to be, “There’s only you and your dreams.” Housewife completely embraces that concept for both better and worse here and audience’s enjoyment with all of this is likely going to depend on what their takeaway is from this madness. Is Holly ultimately lost in her dreams at the end or is she finally awake? It seems fantastical that some demon deity is brought into the world with the tentacle family coming over to celebrate, but the idea of dream-surfing is just as out there. If you’re on board with the premise, you should be on board with this ending.
It’s also significant that this film is called “Housewife”; not Mother, Sister, Marytr…The title obviously wants to hint at this role that Holly has found herself in and her increasing sense of powerlessness. It’s a position that defines itself based on someone else. It has no identity of its own. Understanding the film’s ending is very much to understand this title and how Holly views it. All in all, Housewife is a mixed bag of madness that it absolutely full of stunning visuals and a bonkers ending. It’s not a film for everyone, but Evrenol seems particularly aware of this. Housewife continues the director’s growth as a filmmaker and his next film will probably be the perfect blend of realistic and surreal.