Don't Leave Home Movie Review
Written by Gabino Iglesias
Released by Cranked Up Films
Written and directed by Michael Tully
2018, 86 minutes, Not Rated
Released on September 14th, 2018
Anna Margret Hollyman as Melanie Thomas
Mark Lawrence as Conor Callahan
Karrie Cox as Wendy
Listen, having two solid ideas doesn’t mean you have an entire horror movie. Also, arthouse horror is forgetting that atmosphere must happen within the context of a superb narrative in order to be effective. If it lives outside of a great story, it’s as exciting as watching strangers walk in the park at a slow pace. To paraphrase author Nick Mamatas, there’s no need for you to argue this point with me or give me your opinion; simply think about it quietly until you agree with me. Why am I talking about these things again? Well, because I just finished watching Michael Tully’s Don’t Leave Home, a quiet horror movie that spends 86 minutes trying to find itself before fizzling out.
Melanie Thomas (Anna Margaret Hollyman) is an American artist who creates dioramas. She has a lot of interest in an Irish urban legend about an 8-year-old girl who had a quasi-religious experience in a grotto and then disappeared after a priest painted her in front of a Virgin Mary statue. Legend has it the girl also disappeared from the painting. Melanie is hard at work on a show inspired by that story and reeling from a recent negative review of a preview of it written by a famous critic when she’s contacted by someone working for the painter of the piece that inspired her. The painter invites her to the place where it all took place and commissions her to do a new piece. They also promise to put together an auction that would put serious money in her pocket. Short on money, Melanie decides to accept the invitation and go to Ireland. Once there, things start getting weird as Melanie starts having nightmares and seeing things at night. Will Melanie suffer the same fate as the young girl whose story inspired her? Are the things she’s seeing real?
In some ways, Don’t Leave Home is not an absolute failure. For example, it manages to maintain both an aesthetic and an atmosphere that are at time reminiscent of movies like The Innocents, which is to say that it is somewhat creepy. Also, productions values are good considering it’s a low budget film. That being said, its accomplishments stop there. The movie is slow in that annoying way so many arthouse films are. If literary fiction sometimes suffers from writing that tries too hard to be pretty at the expense of storytelling, horror has the kind of slow movie where gloomy lighting and old houses take up the space of the narrative. Both cases are mediocre substitutions.
The main problem with this movie is not its concept. The idea of an artist becoming obsessed and then waltzing into a bad situation isn’t new, but this could have felt fresher. Also, the underlying religious aspects and miraculous nature of the disappearances could have contributed to make an interesting film. Unfortunately, none of that is explored. In fact, even the backstory is something that isn’t used to full effect. Instead, the film goes from point A to point B without fanfare or any kind of excitement. When you add to that the fact that it isn’t scary and, worse yet, suffers from a slow pace, you get a movie that is immediately forgettable.
There are some bright moments and a few solid ideas in Don’t Leave Home. Unfortunately, there are elements that play against that; gimmicky things like self-flagellation, a butler that doesn’t speak, and a creepy old woman. Also, there is a scene involving pasty white men in 18th century wigs that almost made me stop watching. The intersection of faith and art is fertile ground for storytelling, and horror fits right in. However, this film sabotages itself with elements like the use of strident music for effect, which quickly becomes tiresome and, probably the worst thing in the entire movie, not one but two dreams within dreams (seriously, filmmakers, cut this shit out already). I’m sure Tully has a superb horror movie in him, but this isn’t it.