I acted in an indie feature some years back, and in the story, there was a great deal of whispering among a group of close friends, when an unexpected outsider arrives into their situation. The outsider takes one of the group aside, and with all of the covert conversations and subterfuge within the group, she says, “I’m getting a cult vibe”.
And I was reminded of this line of dialogue when I watched writer/director Can Evrenol’s latest horror flick, Housewife.
I saw Evrenol’s previous film, Baskin (check out my full review here) – and while that had immense promise, it was squandered away by a terrible third act. Housewife didn’t grab me from the very get-go. In fact, it never truly did at any point.
At a young age, Holly (Clementine Poidatz) survived a strange murder spree by her mother (Defne Halman), who was apparently involved in some sort of cult ritual at the time of the event. Fast forward about twenty years and Holly is married to Timucin (Ali Aksoz), a successful author. When one of the couple’s former friends (and sometime lover) Valery (Alicia Kapudag) comes back into their lives, following a two-year, unexplained absence – and returns as part of a high-profile cult called ULM (Umbrella of Love and Mind), things turn strange and menacing for Holly. Add into the mix, Bruce (David Sakurai) – the charismatic leader of ULM and his intense focus on Holly – and off she is headed into the great unknown.
Working in that bit of “cult vibe”, the film owes a debt to Rosemary’s Baby, but with an H.P. Lovecraft sensibility.
I am not familiar with the work of the actors in this ensemble, but my guess is – based on their line deliveries – that English is not their first language. The deliveries felt stilted – sort of like those European characters who show up every now and again in Family Guy – the ones who speak just enough English to sound legitimate, but it never lands quite right on the ear. For those who get that reference, I applaud your nerdiness and appreciate your understanding of the example I’m trying to make.
In Baskin, the film is done in Turkish – Evrenol’s native language, and I don’t know why the choice was made to have Housewife be in English (better chance of distribution, I guess). I think that had the actors spoken their native tongue, they would have felt more comfortable and perhaps provided a more naturalistic performance.
Regardless of the language, the performances (other than a few moments from Poidatz in the film’s climax) are as wooden as can be. Poidatz is rather boring through most of the film, and since her character is our access point into the story and the danger, I found it difficult to relate and therefore to build any sympathy. And her reactions to certain things did not ring true. Not that it’s all Poidatz fault. Along with the wishy-washy story structure (see below), even Holly’s bit of character history, just wasn’t enough for me to really care.
While David Sakurai (as ULM Leader Bruce) is pretty awful in the film’s climax, he perfectly captures the sort of “snake-charmer” quality his character needs, certainly in the big presentation in the convention center when he first meets Holly. He’s smooth, over-the-top and as “Joel Osteen mixed with Tony Little” as you can get. He hit this nail right on the head, but sadly, when he’s not doing a presentation to hundreds of audience members, his performance doesn’t work.
There is a titillating love scene mid-way through the film, and plenty of nudity to be found. Not that this is a precursor to film greatness, of course – but I thought the love scene was tasteful and well done.
Technically, I enjoyed the film in much the same way as I did Baskin. It’s a similar aesthetic as far as camerawork and lighting. The colors are saturated and over-the-top. While I think these choices better served a film like Baskin, I still liked them here. And there’s some wonky (read: fun) camerawork present in Housewife, notably the cool moving camera at the convention center’s main staircase.
From what I remember of Baskin, the special effects and make-up were all fantastic – and there’s no change from that film to here. Plenty of gore, gnarly and monstrous visages and even some shots of violence reminiscent of Argento. I liked that.
The film’s story structure was just all over the place. I never felt 100% certain of what was going on. And it’s always been my belief that I can be confused by certain things and still take away some semblance of understanding. While Housewife eventually tells you all, there’s just too much going on – some of it barely resembling a path to the film’s final revelations. I mean, what was the point of Timucin’s choice of subjects in his writing? Seemed like a nice coincidence, but ultimately unnecessary.
The final moments are some of the better pieces in the film – with a sort of Stranger Things call-out to end it all. And the initial meeting of the cult in that fancy sort of convention/banquet room – is quite intriguing.
Look, as much as I loved Baskin (the first two acts at least), nothing grabbed hold of me in Housewife. You always hope that a filmmaker will get better as they age and as they progress in their careers. And while admittedly, Housewife isn’t a massive step in quality below its precursor (Baskin), it still is a noticeable step down.
And frankly it didn’t help that the sub-par climax of Baskin, was sort of replicated in the climax of Housewife. That bag of tricks needs to be retired.
I think Evrenol is a promising director, but should perhaps look outside of himself when choosing a screenwriter. Note: There were other writers credited with Evrenol on both films discussed here, so who knows where exactly the fault lies.
With a solid aesthetic and good effects, but a meandering story and mostly wooden performances – Housewife definitely gives off a “cult vibe”, but I can tell you with zero hesitation – you probably don’t want to drink this Kool-Aid.
Now available on DVD and on various VOD channels, Housewife certainly doesn’t deserve the kiss of death, but I also can’t recommend you rush out and see it.