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MOVIE REVIEW: “HOMESTEAD” is a Progressive Horror Western With a New Kind of Hero

Monday, April 24, 2023 | Reviews


The Western genre is not particularly known for its feminism. These often regressive films are generally set in the American West of the 19th century and follow cowboys, outlaws, and frontiersmen. With a few notable exceptions, women typically occupy secondary roles, reflective of a time in which they were largely stuck with tasks of domesticity like cooking, cleaning, raising the children, and pleasing the men. Women stayed at home while their macho protectors got to go out and live lives of adventure. HOMESTEAD, the feature film debut of writer-director Ehrland Hollingsworth bucks this stereotype and presents a new type of Western hero: a young girl named Irene (Betsy Sligh) who uses the traditionally masculine elements of her personality to fight for her family’s survival. As the title implies, HOMESTEAD is set almost entirely within the walls of a cabin, and Hollingsworth is much more interested in exploring the power of its female characters and the home they’ve worked hard to build than the men determined to tear it apart.  

Robert (Brian Krause) is a homesteader who’s recently moved to the middle of nowhere with hopes of building a ranch and beginning a new life in the remote wilderness. His wife, Beth (Jamie Bernadette), left her abusive husband long ago and remarried to give her two children a stable home with a safer father figure. Sensitive and shy, Brian (Cavan Tonascia) attempts to make his stepfather proud and learn to be the next man of the house, though the role is clearly more suited to his sister Irene. The brash twelve-year-old offers opinions without fear of reprisal and excels in hunting and target shooting, a reversal of traditional gender dynamics of the era. When a stranger wanders onto their land, Irene must fight to save her family from a gang of thieves hellbent on revenge, while Beth learns a disturbing secret about the man to whom she’s tied her future.

Veteran genre actor Krause leads the film as the well-intentioned Robert. While it’s delightful to see the former heartthrob reinvent himself as a grizzled mentor, HOMESTEAD belongs to its two female leads. Sligh adds the perfect amount of spunk as the feisty Irene. With her tendency to speak her mind and trust her gut, she’s anything but one of the demure and helpless girls that populate the genre. Even more intriguing are the unlikeable elements of her personality. The hot-headed girl is no perfect protagonist, frequently acting on impulse and picking fights with her gentle brother. Bernadette also shines as the world-weary Beth. Hoping for peace, the determined mother can barely contain her rage when she learns the true reason for the outlaw gang’s invasion. Willing to do anything for her children, she is the emotional core of the film and her strength contrasts nicely with Irene’s tendency to attack a threat head-on. 

The film’s other standout is Tonascia as Irene’s brother, Brian. He becomes the target of the gang’s violence, brutally punished in a misogynistic world willing to accept the torture of a young man but not violence against women. The more contemplative sibling, Brian is also instrumental in the climactic showdown, and Hollingsworth uses this character to argue that strength can appear in many forms. Diamond Dallas Page leads a ragtag group of outlaws who lay siege to the home. We’re meant to see them as an overwhelming cloud of terror descending on the homestead, but other than their gravelly voices and ever-present guns, there’s not much more to fear. Mike Markoff gives an eerie performance as the literature-loving Peter, but it’s difficult to get a read on the rest of the gang or their allegiances. They are simply men holding guns with axes to grind. 

At just 79 minutes, Hollingsworth dives headfirst into the story and allows the characters to grow as the plot thickens. The bones of the story are not particularly unique. Essentially it’s a home invasion horror film set in the Old West rather than a wealthy suburb. The script seems disjointed at times, with thin connective tissue between some of the larger plot points and bizarre musical cues that rob some of the story’s bigger moments of their impact. However, strong performances from the family under siege carry us through these relatively minor stumbles, leading to a heartbreaking – but somehow inevitable – conclusion that begs for a sequel. 

HOMESTEAD does not overstay its welcome. Billed as a Western horror thriller, Hollingsworth’s film seamlessly blends genres to deliver a tight and terrifying story that causes us to question our own capacity for survival in a world flipped on its head. Horror fans may long for more overt scares or gory kills, but HOMESTEAD succeeds in telling a nuanced story about a struggling family. The horror comes from the loss of their ideal future, not the villains lurking in the shadows. With strong character work, a unique heroine, and a modern approach to the Western, HOMESTEAD is the first chapter in what will likely be an exciting career. 

Watch HOMESTEAD now on Tubi.


Jenn Adams
Jenn Adams is a writer and podcaster from Nashville, TN. She co-hosts both Psychoanalysis: A Horror Therapy Podcast and The Loser’s Club: A Stephen King Podcast. In addition to Rue Morgue, her writing has been published at Ghouls Magazine, Consequence of Sound, and Certified Forgotten. She is the author of the Strong Female Antagonist blog and will gladly talk your ear off about final girls, feminism, and Stephen King. @jennferatu