With the release of the ghastly Strangers: Prey At Night (read our review) earlier this year, you’d be forgiven for thinking the home invasion sub-genre had more than run its course. I mean, when the best sequence in the movie takes place in a swimming pool, it’s safe to assume home is not where the fear is. Not so because, as the title suggests, Hell Is Where The Home Is.
This nifty little thriller is the brainchild of Orson Oblowitz, the filmmaker behind The Queen of Hollywood Blvd, which starred his mother Rosemary Hochshild. He doesn’t cast her this time around, but instead relies on the talents of one Fairuza Balk to up the weirdness quotient as a mysterious visitor who interrupts a rowdy party and just won’t leave.
The flick begins with the execution of an unlucky couple by a group of gangsters clad in creepy skull masks. The story then jumps forward to another couple rocking up to the same stylish home, set out in the Mojave desert, where the previous occupants clearly left in a hurry, though this doesn’t bother them for more than a few seconds.
Other elements of the home seem off too, such as fresh photos left in a dark room, one of which is clearly developing to reveal something scary (something we won’t get to see until the end of the movie). “I wish I never had to leave,” remarks Angela Trimbur’s Sarah, in a clear moment of famous last words she’ll subsequently wish she hadn’t said.
Sarah and drippy boyfriend Joseph (Zach Avery) are soon joined by another, far more amorous couple in the form of her school friend Estelle (Janel Parrish) and Estelle’s clearly unhinged fella, Vic (Jonathan Howard). The two are soon shagging away in the hot tub, watched closely by Joseph who looks like he’s one sexless day away from stabbing everyone in sight.
Balk’s stranger shows up just as tensions are boiling over, with cheating, undisclosed past traumas, and a wealth of other issues brought out to pasture. When the cops respond to a 911 call, in another interesting twist, quickly followed by the masked guys from before, things escalate further, but not in the manner one would expect from these kinds of movies.
Hell Is Where The Home Is maintains an impressively tense, eerie atmosphere throughout, whether focusing on the interpersonal relationships between the four main characters or ramping up the (incredibly well-judged) violence and gore. It plays with our expectations, surprising us with each shocking new development.
The actors playing the two boyfriends look annoyingly alike, probably on purpose, but represent completely opposite ends of the spectrum. Vic manages to be both the voice of reason — why would you open the door? — and such a complete jerk that you kind of hope he dies first. His solution to everything is more cocaine, leading one character to warn he’s going to have a heart attack.
Joseph, meanwhile, is unable to express his emotions, meaning he takes much of his anger out on the people around him. Although Sarah starts off as the stock “good girl” character, she soon shows hidden depths, particularly after discovering who’s been disloyal to her. Likewise Estelle is more than just the eye candy, especially considering her horrid relationship.
The flick is an interesting meditation on relationships, particularly abusive ones, as Estelle is chastised to “just leave” Vic. Crucially, Sarah doesn’t turn on her friend, even risking sacrificing her own survival to save her at several points. These characters feel like real people who could get into this kind of awful situation and flail, but whose survival we’re still rooting for.
Hell Is Where The Home Is turns the home invasion sub-genre on its head again and again, starting with the usage of AirBnB (the first time ever in a horror movie?), along with the frequent deconstruction of tropes including bloody hand-prints on the walls and the police never showing up when they’re needed.
It’s not at all what you’d expect from the opening moments, marketing material, basic premise, etc.. The all-important deathwave score only kicks in at crucial moments, when the action ramps up, and is used to supplement the atmosphere rather than account for it. The performances are strong across the board, it’s consistently entertaining and devilishly unpredictable right up until its final moments.
Hell Is Where The Home Is manages to stake a claim for home invasion as a sub-genre worthy of further excavation which, considering its only other contemporary this year was Prey At Night, is really saying something.
WICKED RATING: 8/10
Director(s): Orson Oblowitz
Writer(s): Corey Deshon
Stars: Angela Trimbur, Zach Avery, Janel Parrish, Fairuza Balk
Release date: 2018 (TBC)
Studio/ Production Co: 1inMM Productions
Length: 88 minutes
Sub-Genre: Home invasion