Even the most superficial survey of America’s post-Credit Crunch subprime housing market will reveal a grim desert landscape, littered with abandoned homes and broken dreams, that might reasonably be called apocalyptic. Home (aka At The Devil’s Door) opens with a Beast-boding quote from the Book of Revelations (13:16-18), and an encounter inside and outside a trailer home in the Californian desert that will have horrific implications for a young, not quite so innocent teenager (Ashley Rickards). At the crossroads of adulthood, this girl will take a walk on the wild side of her normal suburban middle-class environment – and her home life will never be the same again, as a new guest insists on moving in.
Some time later, estate agent Leigh (Catalina Sandino Morena) is assigned to help sell off the same property, foreclosed after the resident family failed to meet their mortgage payments. She meets the girl, things go bump in the night – and soon it is left to Leigh’s artist sister Vera (Naya Rivera) to pick up the pieces, even as she too finds herself accommodating an unwelcome intruder.
Nicholas McCarthy’s follow-up to his feature debut The Pact (2012) is another tale of two sisters, letting genre’s demonic possessions and reality’s housing repossessions collide at an uncanny crossroads where sociopolitics and scares meet. At stake is the American dream itself, emblematised here by a picket-fence home in the suburbs, and the promise of children. Both migrants to the US, and separated at a young age by the break-up of their own home, these Latin American siblings struggle to live up to these ambitions. Self-made and hard-working, Leigh already has the house, but lives in it alone, her infertility preventing her from starting her own family – and she makes her living off the foreclosure of other homes. Vera has lived longer in the US, but is an artist on the margins – and in a family-unfriendly loft – professing to have no interest in either settling down or spawning a brood.
So while Home offers all the usual Satanic goings on (possessions, levitations, phantom pregnancies) that have become familiar from films like The Exorcist, Paranormal Activity and The House of the Devil, it gives its particular demon a modus operandi of border-crossing migration, adoption, assimilation and property takeover that reflects both the situations of its human characters, and the socioeconomic map of much of contemporary America, where a once cherished Dream has now assumed a diabolical guise of exploitation, misery and ruin. McCarthy gets the frights dead right, carefully building tension from things unseen or half-seen, and criss-crossing his story’s different timelines, before opening the door to admit irruptions of a full-blown irrationalism that comes with both spiritual and psychological resonances. Yet it is the film’s political dimension – its suggestion that in contemporary America, home and family can only be built on the suffering of others – that proves most haunting, forcing itself inside the viewer and refusing to be easily evicted.
© Anton Bitel