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Home Sweet Home: Where Evil Lives (2023)

Home Sweet Home: Where Evil Lives had its world première on Mon 28th Aug at FrightFest

Home Sweet Home: Where Evil Lives (Home Sweet Home – Wo das Böse wohnt) opens with a scene from near its end, as a woman runs outside in the dark, begging on her smart phone for an ambulance. The fact that we next see that woman, an hour or so earlier, arriving at the very house that she will soon be fleeing, and that the sequence of her arrival is cut up by the opening titles, represents an early, subtle statement of intent. For although this film will, like Gustavo Hernández’s The Silent House (La Casa Muda, 2010), Jud Cremata’s Let’s Scare Julie (2020) and Thomas Hardiman’s Medusa Deluxe (2022), appear for much of its duration to be shot in a single, fluid real-time take, that non-linear opening serves to signal that the film will not be overly rigorous in its pursuit of unbroken immediacy, so that when an obvious cut does come about half way through – at a point where there is also a rupture between the protagonist’s dream-like visions of a faraway place and time, and her real situation – we need not be too concerned or feel cheated by this breach of the film’s own cinematographic principles. Here, as this woman will learn, not only does the past catch up with the present, but rules are made to be be broken.  

The woman is Maria (Nilam Farooq), 36 weeks pregnant and now happily using the surname of her recent husband Viktor Welling (David Kross). While he is in the city giving a presentation, she has come out to his palatial family property in the country, whose outbuildings they are fixing up to become Bed and Breakfast apartments. This place is to be their home, their business and, along with the coming baby, their future together. Yet it also, like the Wellers who have resided in it for well over a century, comes with a past – and as Marla waits for Viktor to return, the lights flicker and fail, there are strange noises emanating from the basement, and the anxious mother-to-be grows convinced that there is someone or something else in the house with her. Indeed, as cinematographer Daniel Gottschalk’s mobile handheld camera circles around Maria we catch glimpses of a man (Karl Schaper) dressed in an old military uniform, who vanishes from sight every time she turns back in his direction.  

That man is Viktor’s great great grandfather Siegfried, who, at the turn of the last century, returned from war “no longer himself” and, after his pregnant wife gave birth, “went completely crazy”, attacked everyone and had to be killed in this very house. Long dead, he now haunts the place, and as Maria’s own advanced pregnancy seems to draw him out of the shadows, she starts to wonder exactly what sinister rôle Viktor and his doctor father Wilhelm (Justus von Dohnányi) are expecting her to play in this family’s psychodrama.

Much German horror looks back to the monstrous complicities of the Third Reich for its ‘primal scene’ of guilt, shame and inhuman atrocity, but writer/director Thomas Sieben’s ghost story goes back even further, to the Herero genocide in German South West Africa that served as a training ground for the later Holocaust. History, you see, repeats, and this massacre, and Siegfried’s rôle in it, have left an indelible stain on the Weller household ever since, passed down like a curse, and demanding an unspeakable sacrifice every generation for its expiation. Yet vulnerable, isolated Maria, who has married into rather than inherited the horrors of Germany’s colonial past, will improvise a way of constructing a different future for herself and her baby – even if there is no certainty that she will manage to cut the cord. The impression of constant progress that single-take cinema brings can, after all, be illusory.   

strap: Thomas Sieben’s sort-of single-take ghost story places a pregnant outsider within a German curse of history

© Anton Bitel