Studio: RLJE Films
Director: Can Evrenol
Writer: Can Evrenol, Cem Ozuduru
Producer: Metin Anter, Erhan Ozogul, Muge Buyuktalas
Stars: Clementine Poidatz, David Sakurai, Alicia Kapudag, Ali Aksoz, Defne Halman, Zuri Sen, Elif Gulalp, Gunes Galava, Brandon Patton, Muge Buyuktalas
A troubled woman’s traumatic past haunts her when she encounters an enigmatic cult leader capable of walking between dreams.
Many moons ago, when I first visited Hollywood as a teenage tourist, I participated in a focus group that solicited volunteers outside of Grauman’s Chinese. We screened an unfinished pilot for a scripted TV series starring Montel Williams called “Matt Waters.” Despite our test audience’s assertion that the show was pretty poor, CBS still aired it two years later as a midseason replacement that ran, predictably, for only six episodes.
Humorously, that particular focus group experience was almost identical to the one depicted in the episode of “The Simpsons” that introduces Poochie. Remember the scene where Roger Meyers, Jr. wrangles the kids to watch “Itchy & Scratchy” in front of knobs that they turn to green or red to indicate what they like and don’t like? (“One kid seems to LOVE the Speedo Man!”) It was exactly like that except we had red and green buttons instead of a knob.
“Housewife” brings that memory to mind because its inconsistent appeal fluctuates so drastically and so frequently, I envisioned needing a meter to track mood swings. Certain scenes astound with wild weirdness. Others confound with abstract ambiguity. Picture a knob rhythmically alternating like a pendulum between “intriguing” and “irritating” as personal preference changes in tandem. Not unlike what happens when focus group input chops up a film or show based on subjective ideas in conflict, “Housewife” contains “good” and “bad” bits, adding up to an overall hodge-podge that’s neither and both at the same time.
“Housewife” follows a loose plot, though really, it’s more of an outline acting as connective tissue for visual vignettes of varying value. As with his previous feature “Baskin” (review here), writer/director Can Evrenol emphasizes, and clearly appears invested almost entirely in, dream logic imagery over traditional storytelling.
Nevertheless, the skeletal story chronicles housewife Holly at two turning points in her troubled life. As a little girl, Holly witnesses two horrible murders committed by her mentally disturbed mother. As an adult, Holly suppresses that trauma by figuratively sleepwalking through a middling marriage to esoteric artist Tim.
Holly’s sleepwalking becomes literal when former friend Valerie turns up after a two-year disappearance to take Holly and Tim to a strange seminar. The Umbrella of Love and Mind, or ULM for short, is a hip and hot topic as far as trendy cults go. Its growing popularity traces directly to enigmatic leader Bruce O’Hare, a mysterious man who claims he and his followers can walk between dreams.
ULM hails Bruce as a sort of supernatural savior. Tim thinks he is merely a common conman. The debate over Bruce practically provides a parallel for Can Evrenol’s creative identity. Evrenol may be a misunderstood genius whose nonconformist ideas are too unique for broad cinematic articulation. Or he could be having a laugh at any chin-stroking intellectualism applied to carelessly random oddness. Either way, it wouldn’t be wrong to call Can Evrenol horror’s Jackson Pollock in that regard.
Bruce unblocks Holly’s memories and mentality, in turn unlocking her own dream-walking abilities. With that, “Housewife” stamps the audience’s passport for nonlinear travel through Holly’s conscious, unconscious, and subconscious minds on a jolting journey through the wonderfully macabre yet gratingly incongruous moments mentioned earlier.
“Housewife’s” sensationalism escalates over a wide range of shocks engineered to captivate those open to its hypnotizing obtuseness while reviling anyone understandably opposed to its disturbing visceral sights. Elements less likely to offend feature a swinger’s threesome, female masturbation, and a woman peeing in a public restroom sink for no noticeable reason. More polarizing pieces include a mother sobbing into her daughter’s panties soiled with menstrual blood, that same mother drowning that same daughter in a toilet, and a baby swaddled in a bloody blanket made from flayed human flesh.
Can Evrenol crafts “Housewife” much like Dario Argento crafts his films. By that I mean artistry often overshadows narrative while being extensively employed to pave over gaps in plotting. Also like Argento, Evrenol gets heavy-handed with that artistry. “Housewife” declares war on all five senses using an arsenal of deeply colored lighting schemes, an unrelenting score, and an excessive string of genre chestnuts such as creepy dolls, creaking floors, lightning flashes, and thunder peals.
To the Argento point, it’s worth wondering if “Housewife” would be considered a classic had it come out of the same 70s/80s era when Italian horror and giallo experienced its peak. For better as well as for worse, the film hits many of the same nonsensical notes.
Examined instead with modern sensibilities, being an effective Argento/Fulci/Bava emulation amped up to Lynchian levels of surrealism doesn’t allow “Housewife” to skate by unscathed. Evrenol’s intentionally inserted peculiarities cut into his film’s personality as much as they highlight it. Accents of actors for whom English is not native make for awkward dialogue deliveries. A repeating pattern of abruptly aborting music at certain scene changes shakes viewers out of dreamy immersion into an immediate reminder that they are passive passengers on a train with an undefined destination.
Truth be told, I don’t entirely know what to make of the movie’s muddled mix of tones and timelines, which is why my rating doesn’t take a side. I am however certain that I’m not in the minority, and that an indecisive opinion is anyone’s most likely reaction to the consistently transforming texture.
“Housewife” comes to a point where everyone must choose where to point his or her dial. Green for willful surrender to its suggestive subtleties and sometimes silly outlandishness. Red for incessant annoyance at the same abstruse aesthetics that the green group finds conceptually fascinating.
Review Score: 50