Home Owners

Home Owners (Para entrar a vivir) (2022)

Home Owners (Para entrar a vivir) screens at HÕFF – Haapsalu Horror and Fantasy Film Festival 

Home Owners (Para entrar a vivir) begins with a montage of Ana (Bárbara Goenaga) and Maxi (Gorka Otxoa) unpacking items from boxes in their new home – literal ‘moving’ images that serve as a programmatic statement of influence and intent. Besides a Playmobil set showing a man and woman imprisoned in a barred cell, there are Spanish-language copies of the grimoire Book of Saint Cyprian, of Hand Jurgen Eysenck and Carl Sargent’s Mysteries of the Paranormal, of Nigel Davies’ Human Sacrifice, of Roger de Lafforest’s Houses that Kill, and most prominent of all, an edition of J.R. Hanslet’s All Of Them Witches, a non-existent manual of magic and the macabre that featured in – indeed was invented for – Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968). In case the allusion is missed, the opening credits end with Scrabble tiles which have, as in a key scene from Polanski’s film, been arranged to form the message ‘ALL OF THEM WITCHES’ – and later Rosemary’s Baby itself will be listed on a film menu on the couple’s television.  

Entrapment, the paranormal, killer houses, devilry – all these will turn out to be important motifs in Pablo Aragüés and Marta Cabrera’s film, just waiting to be unpacked. And just like Rosemary’s Baby, this is about a couple who have just moved into an apartment building with a dark past, and about a woman who is anxious about the pressures of maternity. Even those Scrabble tiles serve as an index to the possibilities of anagrams and paronomasia, all duly delivered not only by the estate agent Lucía Fernández (Luisa Gavasa) who insists that her clients call her Luci, ensuring that the first seven letters of her name spell out ‘Lucifer’, but also by the apartment’s previous resident Laura Perez Almer, a pregnant journal keeper who vanished and is presumed dead, and whose name readily abbreviates to that most famous of missing diarists, Laura Palmer

While Home Owners may not be shy about its influences, it is also very playful with them – and the notes of Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy which underscore much of it ensure that all these ever more sinister domestic happenings are steeped in a jaunty irony. This is a film that never takes itself seriously. Desperate for a place of their own but short on cash, Ana and Maxi are too overwhelmed by the size, features and impossibly low price of Ventura de la Vega, built in 1946, to pay much attention to its late architect’s background in Nazism, freemasonry and the occult, or to the fact that several of its previous occupants – all pregnant women – have disappeared in mysterious circumstances.

Ana and Maxi love the place – its capacious interiors, its heated pool and garden, even the secret room behind a hidden door. And they become yet more hooked when they discover that the house magically grants them whatever they want: not just producing perfect food and drinks at their command, but also making luxury items materialise by the fireplace no sooner than they have been requested. Maxi in particular has become caught up in the consumerist wish-fulfilment of this dream home, quitting his job and soon rarely even setting foot outside – while Ana, who has found Laura’s diary, is starting to worry about their predecessor’s scrawled warning, “be careful what you wish for”, and to wonder what the catch is in the Faustian contract that they have exchanged.

Playing out a little like Christian Volckman’s The Room (2019), Home Owners is a parable of capitalism, dramatising the way that this couple’s newfound material wealth also becomes their prison house, not so much liberating them from their troubles as making them slaves to their own insatiable acquisitiveness. Even after Ana has realised the damage that all these wishes might be doing to their very souls, she still sits by Maxi on the couch and, even as she frets away, cannot help availing herself of their ill-gotten lifestyle: watching a show on their new big TV, sharing from Maxi’s endlessly refilled snack bowl, and glancing at the smart phone that she had earlier conjured out of thin air with her mere desire. Both Maxi and Ana are now addicts, owned by their own home, and while the film is broadly comic in tone, its ambiguous ending leaves it unclear whether this couple has escaped its coming damnation, or leapt willingly – like a human sacrifice – right into it.   

strap: Property is theft in Pablo Aragüés and Marta Cabrera’s diabolical comedy, as a couple discovers that their new house owns them 

© Anton Bitel