Leaving your home always risks an encounter with someone too pleasant and boundary-averse to rebuke. You want to point to the headphones in your ears that aren’t actually playing anything as a means to avoid conversation, but they don’t get the hint because you’ve unwittingly enamored them. Or maybe you accidentally engaged them first in some desperate need for a favor—turning an anonymous acquaintance into a potential friendship you simply don’t have time to foster. What then are your choices when he/she seizes upon that brief window of opportunity to sit down and threaten never to leave? You either let your potent disinterest out and become the uppity bad guy or you fake a smile and go along for the ride, hoping it’ll all be over soon.
Option number one simply isn’t on the menu for Michelle (Alex Essoe). Whether it’s her ingrained Canadian-ness or her fear of letting people down, she’ll swear under her breath at her horrid luck while struggling to maintain a look of kind acceptance once Linda’s (Precious Chong) physical embodiment of the “Overly Attached Girlfriend” meme sits down and stares with rapt attention and complete disregard for personal space. It doesn’t matter that Michelle has work to do. It doesn’t matter that she’s an obviously private person awkwardly laughing with discomfort when the conversation turns invasively specific after Linda latches onto a potential point of failure. When you’re a prisoner to your own politeness, playing along to satiate their loneliness-driven craving for attention is often the sole means of escape.
Director Zach Gayne and co-writers Essoe and Chong set their film Homewrecker up to corner Michelle into confronting her aversion to confrontation. It’s not just through her futile resignation towards Linda’s overzealous advances either since she’s avoiding her husband (Kris Siddiqi’s Robert) where it comes to their attempts at pregnancy too. Michelle is afraid to talk to him about what appears to be a reluctance to truly embrace the prospect of parenthood because she doesn’t want to end up discovering that she read the situation wrong and thus created conflict where none actually existed. She can’t trust her instincts enough to open up to the man she intends to spend her life with nor those screaming for her to run away from Linda as fast as she can.
Because that’s exactly what she should have done the moment this wild-eyed woman sat down. Michelle should have closed her laptop, got in her car, and drove home. Maybe she should have even decided to cancel all her exercise class memberships just in case Linda was lurking in the background of more than yoga because you can never be too careful when someone that exudes stalker tendencies latches on with a death grip. It doesn’t matter that she might be harmless since that initial impulse probably means this forced relationship couldn’t evolve further anyway. So why lead her on? Why pretend to be interested only to never speak to her again, ultimately adding to Linda’s mounting sense of isolation as a pariah too extra for society to appreciate?
Lucky for us Michelle lets her refusal to upset the applecart lead her into a gradual escalation of uncontrollable urges on behalf of Linda. It starts with an invitation to visit Linda’s home to get a sense of whether sprucing the place up with her interior design skills is palatable. Then it turns to a potential kidnapping situation with a strange liquid being poured into a drink Michelle doesn’t even want. And finally things travel into full-blown homicidal unpredictability as Linda’s temper gets the better of her whenever her guest shows the slightest eagerness to leave. She only wants someone to talk to without the subterfuge of niceties masking truth that civilization has adopted to constantly say so much without ever saying anything. Is that so horrible?
If not for the sudden bursts of rage, Linda does prove pitiable. She’s over-the-top, obliviously intimidating, and unbearably sad to willingly entrap someone she had hoped to befriend, but you feel for her as a woman the world is passing by. Linda used to be popular when she was younger and excelled within a world driven by face-to-face conversations and in-the-moment adventures. But now that everything is cellphones, dating apps, and façades meant to cultivate a false sense of identity meticulously manufactured to appeal to the largest number of people possible, she’s been left on the curb like a dinosaur waiting to go extinct. And here’s Michelle thinking she’s too good to spend a day talking about boys and watching movies with a Cape Cod in-hand? What nerve.
Around halfway through Homewrecker‘s brisk 75-minute runtime, however, our sympathies are thrown out the window. As Linda’s violent tendencies are unleashed, we discover her desire to remain a giddy cheerleader-type yearning for a strapping jock to whisk her away over his shoulder is what must be destroyed. Because as she calls out Michelle and people like her for being “selfish,” she inevitably reveals how delusional her archaic notions of femininity, sexuality, and decency are (brought to life best by a hilarious board game with made-up rules to render its gender dynamics even worse than its dated aesthetic demands). And rather than put her head in the sand to let that damaging rhetoric lie, Michelle finds herself dismantling her own patriarchal-based brainwashing to reject her need to be compliant.
As more revelations begin to show that their chance encounter might not be as random as it initially seems, the division between Linda’s ingrained co-dependence when it comes to love and Michelle’s independent woman come into focus. This is narratively accomplished by the former’s rapid descent into jealous madness, but psychologically affirmed by the latter’s growing sense of empowerment. Both assume to know what drives the other only to succumb to the abuse those wrong assumptions shield them from preventing. And as they comically beat each other up with words and sledgehammers, they realize they’ve forgotten what actually drives their own lives too. Michelle can still reclaim autonomy from the clutches of culturally sanctioned pleasantries to demand happiness. “Chad” can go to prom by his own damn self.
Homewrecker played at the Fantasia International Film Festival.