Directed by Jakob M. Erwa. Starring Esther Maria Pietsch, Matthias Lier, Tatja Seibt. Germany/Austria, 96mins, Cert 15.
Released in the UK by Matchbox films on DVD on 12th February
With a small cast and set almost entirely in a brightly lit if poorly decorated block of flats in Berlin, HOMESICK is a film that is never clear as to what type of horror it actually is. Ordinarily, that would be a criticism, but this is not an ordinary film and the ambiguity as to the necessary sub-genre into which it might slot is one of its many strengths.
Esther Maria Pietsch stars as Jessica, a talented celloist with hopes of competing for Germany at an upcoming music competition. Along with her boyfriend Lorenz (Mathias Lier) she moves into a new home, where she can practice by day while he heads out to work.
Shortly after their arrival though, Jessica starts to sense that not all is right. The elderly lady who lives in the flat above (Tatja Seibt) appears to spy on her at random intervals, while phantom door knocking and unpleasant deposits on the doorstep suggest she, or they, are not welcome.
Things get worse and Jessica becomes understandably unsettled, but what’s causing it? Is she simply imagining things? Do the creepy dreams seep into her waking life? What is real and what isn’t? Is there possession at hand or other spirits at work? Is Jessica paranoid or picked on?
What makes the film work so well is that it never offers any answers to these questions, but leaves them hanging for the audience to draw their own conclusions. There are some things we can decipher with a degree certainty but other plot elements that, had this film experienced a wider release, would be the subject of IMDB message board strands for days afterwards, especially the revelation at the very end of the very final shot.
It is slow-burning at times, but director Jakob M. Erwa steers well clear of clichés or familiar horror tropes. The use of wide shots and long takes means the sudden cuts between scenes account for many of the jolts. There are no loud noises or things that go bump in the night, but an underpinning tension, created by the fact many of the scenes are cut short and left without a natural resolution. The coldness of the interiors gives the flat the necessary unwelcoming feel, something akin to a very scaled down Overlook hotel while that key, unrecognised element of decent horror – brilliant sound design and editing – is utilised magnificently here.
It all comes together to create a chilling film that serves as a superb counter-point to the many cliché-ridden horrors that come out of big studios and make big money. That HOMESICK won’t is something of a shame, but seek it out and it serves to be a film that is as rewarding as it is unsettling.
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