Independent Film Festival of Boston 2018: Don’t Leave Home, by Sarah Brinks
Don’t Leave Home falls into a genre of films that I would like to call “almost horror.” There are moments in the film that are scary and there are horror elements to film, but it never manages to actually be horror. The director, Michael Tully, referred to it as “gothic horror”, that might have been the ambition but Don’t Leave Home missed the mark.
The film is about a young artist named Melanie Thomas who is about to launch her art show of dioramas about mysterious disappearances over the last thirty years in Ireland. Thomas focuses on the disappearance of young Siobhan. Siobhan had her portrait painted by the local priest in front of a virgin Mary statue. One morning her parents awake to find their daughter has vanished from the house and also mysteriously from her portrait as well. As the show nears its launch date and after a bad review Melanie gets a phone call from a woman named Shelly who knows the priest and asks her to come to Ireland to meet with him and sell him the diorama about Siobhan and create an original piece to be auctioned.
I do want to give the film credit where it is deserved. Don’t Leave Home is beautiful. I am not an aspect ratio expert, but I believe it was shot in 1.33:1. Tully takes advantage of the frame and fills it with imagery to great effect. A couple of times the main character walks into a sitting room and there is a mirror on the wall opposite and the camera shows us what is happening in that room first before panning around to show the room, it was an effective technique and Tully only went to a few times, so it was still effective. Tully also takes full advantage of how beautiful the Irish countryside is. The film is about artists and many of the shots look like well composed paintings. The acting in the film is mostly strong as well. Lalor Roddy plays Father Burke and he gives a complex performance as a conflicted former priest. David McSavage is also consistently creepy as the nearly silent butler; his sheer creepiness often offers some much-needed levity.
Don’t Leave Home is not a movie that worked for me. As I mentioned before the tone of the film was muddled and left me wanting to be more scared. The film relies heavily on dream sequences or visions to unsettle you and foreshadow things. However, those sequences were never satisfying to me. Melanie keeps seeing a hooded figure in a brown cloak that has long fingers and breathes heavily. But the figure is so ambiguous it loses its impact on the story. In the very beginning she sees the figure as part of her Siobhan diorama, then she sees it in a chair in a dream or under her covers, but at one point in a dream she seems to give birth to a miniature version of it. Those sequences are so weird and disjointed that by the time they are supposed to make sense it was too late.
One character I struggled with throughout the film is Shelly, Father Burke’s companion, played by Helena Bereen. Even from the very first phone call with Shelly, I knew she was the villain. I think Bereen was channeling her best “Mrs. Danvers” impression but she never quite got there. There were also too many scenes of Melanie overhearing Shelly outright threatening her or other people for her to have stayed in that house as long as she did.
Don’t Leave Home also relies heavily on the viewer buying into characters’ actions when they do ludicrous things. I know this is a classic horror movie trope, but they set Melanie up to be a reasonable, thinking person in the film. Then she gets a million warnings that things are clearly not ok in that house, but she just stays there and doesn’t ever ask questions or anything. Then finally after the crap really hits the fan she still stays in the house instead of running away as fast as her legs will carry her. As a result, I was never able to buy in to the story fully.
While I have no doubt that Tully is a talented filmmaker, this particular story did not work for me at all. Don’t Leave Home was never dark or scary enough to draw me in, or even weird enough to peak my interest. It was just confusing, vague, and ultimately disappointing.