UPDATED: The first 60 minutes of This is Our Home are a solid exercise in escalating tension, the deterioration of a relationship, and creeping psychological dread. For a movie that’s only 73 minutes, with credits, those don’t seem like bad odds. But damn does director Omri Dorani’s film hit a wall at that point. You can practically hear the screech of tires as all forward momentum comes to a sudden halt.
Up to that point, it’s slight, but effective meditation of grief and loss and a couple trying to salvage their relationship. It’s minimalist and made with a shoestring budget, but it’s well acted for the most part, narratively interesting in construction, and wonderfully edited.
The key problems is that the story comes to its logical, if gnarly and unhinged, end at roughly the hour mark. What follows is empty filler that takes up space and feels like a ploy to stretch the run time to hit the minimum requirement for feature length. Multiple static shots drag out for twice as long as necessary and the final four minutes are a single unbroken shot of two characters walking down the side of a road. Not talking or doing anything, just walking. It’s a frustrating juxtaposition when so much was so good.
A young couple, Reina (Simone Policano) and Cory (Jeff Ayers) go away for weekend in the country. They obviously have problems and this is what feels like a last-ditch attempt to fix them. Things take a dark turn, however, when a young boy (Drew Beckas) shows up on their doorstep in the middle of the night claiming to be their son.
From the beginning, Rob Harmon’s script gradually increases the tension and pressure on the couple. On the drive, their car gets a flat and a couple of locals show up and insult Cory’s manhood. An ominous air hangs over everything and a threatening feeling looms large, a sensation that never dissipates. The film cuts back and forth, from the current time to an earlier one, almost in a dream logic kind of way, progressively parsing out what happened and how they got there.
A mix of eerie haunted house tropes, a few home invasion flourishes, and familial horror, there’s a definite Hereditary vibe. It uses genre trappings as a metaphor for people dealing with unimaginable trauma and crushing despair. There’s also a strong Shining influence as well, both in a place driving someone to the brink of madness and in the way cinematographer Thomas Taugher (Fruitvale Station) frames and films the action.
Even before the precipitous drop off, there are still some ups and downs. Policano and Ayers do a nice job selling their bond and their wounds, which both bring them together and push them apart. With a total of five actors and one real location, this is an example of filmmakers getting a lot out of incredibly limited resources. The child actor can be distracting. It's actually incredible he's here at all. Beckas was diagnosed non-verbal autistic at two-years-old, so even learning to talk has been a huge undertaking. It's wonderful the filmmakers included him in the process and were willing to work with him. That said, he doesn't quite fit with the tone of the surrounding film. The character is supposed to be unnerving and spooky, discomforting and creepy, but it doesn't play that way.
There’s a great deal to like about This is Our Home. The narrative design, unsettling atmosphere, two of the performances, and the general aesthetics—Reina is studying to be a brain surgeon, which leads to a few fantastic, off-kilter moments with meat and scalpels. With a low-to-no-budget movie, you don’t have the luxury of reshoots and additional time—if you don’t have it, you don’t have it. But though there’s a ton of potential, it’s never realized, and the film never feels complete or fully developed. [Grade: C+]