By JAMES TUCKER
Starring: Clémentine Poidatz, David Sakurai, Defne Halman
Directed by Can Evrenol
Written by Can Evrenol, Cem Özüduru
Produced by Anka Film, Chantier Films, Mo Film
Forgive me for how off-kilter and rambly this one is going to be; I’m still recovering from watching Can Evrenol’s HOUSEWIFE. This is going to be one hell of a follow-up.
Listen: I love cults. Love them. The Wicker Man, Hereditary, and The Endless are among my favorite movies of all time, and with the exception of Neil LaBute’s Wicker Man remake, I’d be hard pressed to find a horror film with a cult in it that I didn’t enjoy. So when Shudder dropped a film by the writer and director of Baskin (BASKIN, of all films) about a woman who joins a cult to escape her traumatic past, I had to give it a watch.
The film opens with a young Holly (played here by Zuri Sen) running from her mother, (played throughout the film by Defne Halman) who upon discovering her sister Hazel (played by Elif Gülalp) has had her period drowns her in a toilet. She escapes, the sole survivor of her mother’s massacre, and eventually goes on to marry Timucin (played by Ali Aksöz), a painter and true-crime writer who wrote a book about the massacre. Plagued by irrational fears, nightmares, and surrounded by remnants of her past, Holly (played through the rest of the film by Clémentine Poidatz) spends each day hiding how broken she is. UNTIL she’s visited by an old friend, Valery (played by Alicia Kapudag), who takes her to a meeting of a NXIUM-style cult known as the “Umbrella of Love and Mind,” or ULM. The cult’s leader, Bruce O’Hare (played by David Sakurai) chooses her to join their ranks… and nothing will ever be the same as she’s led on a trip through her own dreams that culminates in the most Lovecraftian ending to ever Lovecraft.
“this film reveals itself like a Lovecraftian horror slowly lumbering out of the dark: incomprehensible but terrifying nonetheless.”
That sounds like a lot, but most of that is just the setup for what comes later. And I promise, if you’re anything like me there will be a LOT you will have to swallow before this film even starts to make sense. Instead of a cult thriller, the film spends much of its run time acting as a psychological thriller; as Holly spends time with Bruce O’Hare, the line between her dreams and reality bends and then absolutely breaks, leaving Holly (and us) stranded in a Wonderland-style maze of fiction and reality. At one point in the film, David Sakurai’s character says “I can imagine how crazy this must seem; but sometimes things just are,” speaking as if directly to the audience. Without spoiling anything, I still had quite a few questions by the end of the film, but everything DOES come together in a way that’s satisfying. Scratch that, better than satisfying, because this film reveals itself like a Lovecraftian horror slowly lumbering out of the dark: bit by bit, it reveals pieces and parts of itself in flashes until it stands complete, still somewhat incomprehensible but terrifying nonetheless.
And listen: you’re going to have questions by the end of this film if you think about it even a little bit. Like wait, what are visitors? Why is Holly special? What actually happened to certain people? Is all of this in her head or is it real? And the truth of the matter is that the film isn’t interested in answering any of those questions: it just wants to shock you and disorient you in equal measure. There’s going to be some DISTURBING shit here that the film will never really account for. But what else can you expect from the writer/director of Baskin, a similarly image driven and sensationalistic film? And really, all of this isn’t to say that HOUSEWIFE makes no attempt to communicate meaning: a very Hereditary-esque dollhouse shows up throughout the early stages of the film to represent the main characters trauma, a physical remnant from her childhood that symbolizes how trapped she feels. Doll imagery abounds through this film, punctuating Holly’s lack of agency in any aspect of her life both before and after any eldritch forces decide to get involved. And in the end, the film’s lack of regard for the concept of linearity and clarity feels very Lovecraftian. It isn’t important how we got here. We’re here. And you’re here with us.
I’m going to give HOUSEWIFE a seven or so out of ten. There will be people who don’t have patience for this film, and I was very nearly one of them. But the last twenty minutes tied enough together and went to horrifying enough places that in the end, this film won me over in a big way. If you’re looking for a mindfuck of a psychological horror film, or have seen Richard Stanley’s excellent Color Out of Space and you’re looking for a new Lovecraft fix, give this one a shot. You won’t regret it.