There’s an old saying that’s been around probably as long as there have been homewreckers. It goes a little something like this:
Desperate women throw themselves. Weak men accept the offer. –Anonymous
I first heard that saying come from the mouth of my beloved late Aunt Linda after my mom and dad split up. My old man apparently had a serious problem keeping it in his pants when he was at work, on softball trips, or supposedly “out with the boys.” In other words, he could never keep it in his pants. I didn’t know this; an eight-year-old kid doesn’t pick up context clues when his G.I. Joes are anywhere nearby. The statement made a deep impact on me at the time. It was one of those keystones that shape your outlook on life and love.
It’s a sad little tale, but I’m not special. All too common today, the broken home is as American as apple pie, baseball, and bigotry. There are other types of homewreckers, however. For the purpose of staying true to the heart of the vision of writer-director Zach Gayne (the film is also co-written by stars Alex Essoe and Precious Chong), I’ll refer you to the Urban Dictionary definition of homewrecker: “Someone who does not respect the boundaries and dynamics of relationships and families…”
I like that definition. That hits the proverbial nail right on the head where Homewrecker is concerned. When we first meet Michelle (Alex Essoe, Doctor Sleep), she’s minding her own business—doing a little yoga and following it up with some work time in front of her computer at the local coffee shop. After her workout, she meets a nice (and somewhat pushy) woman named Linda (Precious Chong) who bails her out when she finds her period has unexpectedly started and caught her without a tampon. When Linda shows up at the coffee shop and invites herself to sit down, Michelle is quietly flustered and put upon but can’t just blow her off.
We’ve all been there, haven’t we? You’re doing your own thing in your own world, and someone decides that you’re the person they suddenly want to get to know. It’s awkward, invasive, and frankly awful. Michelle is sweet and patient, however, and she’s soon getting to know Linda a little more. When Linda finds out that Michelle is an interior designer, her eyes light up and you just know what’s coming next. Before she even has time to properly berate herself for being too nice, she’s sitting in Linda’s hot mess of a living room and trying not to be too startled by the strange lapses into daydream and her occasional microaggression or ominous non sequitur.
Then, it gets really weird—they watch movies, Linda knocks Michelle out and locks her up, confessions are made, and of course there’s eventually violence. Also, they play a board game (complete with vintage video clues straight from the VCR) called “Party Hunks. ”And I’m still not sure I’m ready to process Linda’s creepy as hell rendition of Lisa Loeb’s 1994 classic sob song, “Stay (I Missed You).”
Homewrecker is a film that understands the inherent creepiness brought on by that all too familiar progression from awkward to cringeworthy to “I might have to kill you if you don’t shut up.” Again, we’ve all been there. What do you when the person who is already not respecting your boundaries also seems to somehow know more about your personal life than they should? Is that where you cut and run? Can you cut and run?
It’s inaccurate to label Homewrecker as a straight horror film. The violence is often too slapstick, you can see the twist coming from a mile away, and the beats play much more as a thriller. That’s the wonderful difference with Homewrecker, though—everything in the film screams suburban stalker, but the performances from both amazing women are pure horror. The husband’s late appearance in the story is almost an afterthought. Weak men accept the offer, remember?
This is a film that’s all about two women and the worlds they call home. In effect, they become each other’s homewreckers. Linda does this intentionally while Michelle didn’t ask for it and never intended it, but the results are the same. Each will shatter the other’s illusion of happiness at home. Linda can’t face how desperate she is while Michelle didn’t realize how desperate she’s been the whole time.
And there’s the horror, folks. It’s in the struggle to keep the voices at bay. It’s pretending you’re not so lonely that you’d ruin someone else’s life. It’s the slow, dawning realization that you’ve been barking up the wrong tree for a shamefully long time. It’s in the cruel irony of how desperate women always have such an easy time finding a weak man. Every shot that lingers too long on Linda’s blankly eager stare is enough to make the hair stand up on your arms.
Precious Chong (yes, she’s Tommy Chong’s daughter) utterly destroys it in the awkward, unnerving, and uncomfortable department. She doesn’t hide her age or imperfections, and it’s the best kind of clash with her childish persona and bright, sunny façade. Her take on a woman broken enough to be a willful homewrecker on multiple levels is powerful and unhinged. Alex Essoe plays it straight with aplomb, reacting with sympathy and trying to commiserate before it just becomes too much. When she finally has had enough, Essoe shows you she can be quite terrifying in a flash as well.
Linda and Michelle are a curiously matched pair, women who could be friends if the circumstances were a little different (and one wasn’t clearly batsh!t crazy). Underlying all this is the theme of age—the millennial standing face-to-face with the woman who was last cool around the time Ronald Reagan was still the president. They don’t speak the same language. They don’t operate or even think the same way…but the language of desperation and damage knows no generation.
Homewrecker is an anomaly, a film that wants so clearly to be a stalker thriller in its structure and trappings (and succeeds adequately at it) before the real horrors of loneliness, infidelity, instability, and Lisa Loeb come to the front and show you just how bad it can get.
At the end of it all, you’re left with the same question that I had when I was eight years old: why can’t some people just be happy with what they have?