Homages are nothing new in today’s genre market. While most films in this category pay tribute to icons of the ’80s with blaring synths and comic book storylines, the occasional echo from the ’70s will cross our paths. There is a difference between homages and stylistic recreations, however. Where one approach ends up feeling like fan fiction, the other pays attention to detail in a way that only a talented filmmaker can manage. This applies to Michael Tully, who has made a name for himself with unclassifiable but fascinating indie films. He marks his first full-fledged descent into horror with a charming, chilling callback to Gothic masterpieces from Europe.
Ominously titled Don’t Leave Home, the film begins with a character doing just that. Desperate for money after a bad review, talented miniature artist Melanie (Anna Margaret Hollyman) travels to Ireland, the country that inspired her latest series, after a mysterious priest commissions a piece from her. This priest is also an artist, but his most famous painting is irrevocably tied to a nightmare. The subject of the painting, a little girl, vanished from both the image and the world several decades ago. As Melanie grows closer to the artist, she is tormented by dark visions—and a sense that all is not right with her secluded retreat.
This kind of story, ghostly and surreal, is perfectly suited to the ’70s Gothic style. However, like recent favorite The Love Witch, Tully’s film stems from sources beyond the obvious. With tonal and stylistic influences echoing Don’t Look Now (in this case, titular as well), Lisa and the Devil, or Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (amongst countless others), Tully noted that his true inspirations were the works of psychological filmmakers like Ingmar Bergman or Kiyoshi Kurosawa—artists who use dream logic to express a hidden meaning that a concrete narrative couldn’t accomplish. In this sense, the film avoids being pastiche—it’s got life, and terror, of its own.
Though the film is sleepy in its pace (a hallmark of the works it admires), Tully spins three or four genuinely frightening nightmare sequences. The foreboding notes in the story might cue more attentive viewers into the twist right away, but that doesn’t matter, because the ending goes further than one might expect. The impressive dread that Tully conjures is indebted to the Irish countryside itself, but also to the cast, led by Anna Margaret Hollyman, with supporting turns by the eerie Helena Bereen and vulnerable Lalor Roddy. The camerawork is subtle and painterly, while the score takes cues from films of this decade, utilizing phantasmal flute and violins to add texture to the atmosphere.
While it could have been a passing nod to other, better films, Tully ensures that his work makes an impact. His film’s core speaks to a misunderstood truth: talent hurts, and it’s often exploited at the risk of destroying the vessel that carries it. When one considers the tragic fates of writers like Virginia Woolf or Oscar Wilde, the hounded lives of singers Billie Holiday and Nina Simone, the point that Tully communicates has weight. An independent artist himself, maybe he’s speaking from experience. Regardless of metaphor, Don’t Leave Home resonates with atmosphere and dark humor, spinning dread from a human story. Homage or not, its quiet chills deserve to find their way into your blood.
Movie Score: 3.5/5
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