Violently Theatrical Homewrecker a Gleefully Anarchic Black Comedy
Michelle (Alex Essoe) is a young interior designer half-heartedly working on her latest project at a local coffee shop. Her train of thought is interrupted by Linda (Precious Chong). The pair attend the same gym and are in several classes together, and while they definitely aren’t friends, they’re not exactly strangers, either.
Linda takes an immediate interest in what Michelle is doing. So much of one she invites the young woman back to her house so she can bid on some interior design work. But it’s all a ruse. Linda wants more from Michelle than just some design ideas, and one way or another she’s going to get exactly what she wants no matter what she has to do to get it.
I’m doing my best to be vague as far as Zach Gayne’s Homewrecker is concerned. Written by the director and the two actresses, this is an impressive improvisational dark comedy overflowing in original and imaginative ideas. While not all of them work, and while not every piece of this puzzle fits together as nicely it is likely intended to, this is still one heck of an entertaining foray into psychologic discombobulation, everything building to a shockingly gruesome climax I honestly didn’t see coming.
Roughly two-thirds of the film is exceedingly theatrical, and that is almost certainly by design. This is basically a two-character three-act play about a pair of women verbally waltzing around one another as they try to determine whether or not friendship is possible or if something far more sinister is about to transpire. This is primarily a dialogue-driven enterprise, and with both Essoe and Chong greedily feasting upon every line, there’s practically zero room for boredom to set in while one watches these two women creatively cook up such a witty feast.
But this also does mean there is a notable stage-bound quality to the narrative, which is perfectly fine in my opinion. In the same breath, there’s not a lot Gayne creatively do to conceal some of the narrative’s more underwhelming aspects. Linda’s character arc doesn’t allow Chong much room to evolve, and for the most part the woman I was introduced to at the beginning of the story was the same one demonically running around her living room in homicidal consternation during the climax.
Truth be told Linda kind of reminded me of Annie Wilkes from Misery, only without the complicatedly nuanced edges that made her such a fascinating villain. While Homewrecker tries to show why this lonely middle-aged woman is the way she is, there’s just not enough depth for these aspects of the character to come alive in an emotionally affecting way. It’s a problem, and as good as Chong is in the role, and she is pretty terrific, it remains one the actress can’t quite overcome.
Thankfully Essoe is around to pick up the slack. In fairness, Michelle is a far more well-constructed character, and just by the fact she’s the one Linda’s smothering gregariousness is directed at this inherently makes her easier to care about and relate to. But Essoe, so brilliant in Starry Eyes in 2014 and a dynamic scene-stealer in more recent efforts like Midnighters and Doctor Sleep, goes for broke. She rides an emotional rollercoaster throughout the film that’s frequently extraordinary, all of it culminating in an exhaustedly determined ferocity that’s close to bone-chilling when it is eventually released.
Gayne gets a little too tricky trying to enliven things visually. Once Michelle realizes the full extent of the ominous situation she finds herself in and Linda begins to psychologically oppress the woman she keeps claiming she’d like to be friends with, the filmmaker introduces a split-screen technique that doesn’t always work. When it does, like during a moment where the two women sit on either side of a locked door negotiating something akin to a truce, the effect is startling. But other scenes where Gayne utilizes this same trick fall annoying flat, fracturing my attention in multiple directions for reasons more unintentionally laughable than they were anything substantive.
Events culminate in a final 20 minutes that have to be seen to be believed. Things go haywire in the most unpredictable ways, everything becoming a tongue-tied onslaught of chaos, abuse, recriminations, retribution and outright vengeance that left me positively flabbergasted. The violence is shocking. The pitch-black humor is bloodcurdling. The emotional devastation all-encompassing. It’s a crackerjack ending that ends up making Homewrecker instantaneously worthwhile, the epic grandeur of this climax nothing short of goofily incredible.
Film Rating: 3 (out of 4)