By KATHERINE CONNELL
Written and directed by Graeme Arnfield
Square Eyes Film
Since the Fantasia International Film Festival often constellates unconventional titles that are surprising in their genre connections, such programming decisions offer festival-goers a more expansive understanding of what genre – in this case, horror – can do. Recipient of a special mention from this year’s jury, Graeme Arnfield’s HOME INVASION is an essay film that is of interest to horrorphiles insofar as it highlights how technological innovation has normalized vaguely imaginable onscreen terrors.
Arnfield focuses his study on the history of the video doorbell, a device that has evolved to encompass complex surveillance devices such as Amazon’s Ring. These “smart” video doorbells provide homeowners with a lens that endlessly plays out the fantasy of home invasion films right down to the very camera angles that code visitors or delivery workers as outsider threats. Drawing parallels to horror films that disrupt the home as a bastion of safety and domesticity, HOME INVASION posits that doorbell technology has similarly made the home an increasingly porous membrane, no longer a private sanctuary but an endlessly penetrated site of data collection and policing.
Made during the pandemic (as Arnfield somewhat smugly notes, “in bed”) this detail proves vital to the structure of the film, which begins each of its chapters with a different person waking from a nightmare: the inventor of the video doorbell Marie van Brittan Brown, D.W. Griffith and Luddite leader Mary Molyneux who instigated labour disruptions in 19th century Britain. While these sequences may lose viewers drawn in by a genre premise and not expecting to mull such historical minutiae, it’s a collage of information that rewards the attentive during the film’s final sequence.
Every frame of HOME INVASION’s 99-minute run-time is presented through a fisheye circle in the middle of the screen. It’s a tough ask for an audience to acclimatize to such a warped perspective and so much negative space. Still, looking at a film’s action through this peephole-like circle is a striking gimmick that forces viewers into awareness of their participation (and potential disempowerment) within surveillance culture. While there’s always an inevitable drift in attention that accompanies watching an experimental film, HOME INVASION persistently returns to the squeamish realities of its subject matter to maintain a sense of urgency.
Some horror fans may struggle to connect to HOME INVASION, but the film is an important title insofar as it highlights the evergreen connections between narrative horror and experimental traditions. Not only does HOME INVASION provide a unique commentary on our relationship with horror films, but also provokes extreme discomfort by revealing the extremities that we make banal in our waking lives.