May Cheng and her husband try to console their panicked, hyperventilating little boy. The boy is scared because while he and May were in the process of moving their stuff into their new apartment, the kid got briefly separated from his mother, and both May and the kid saw something scary inside the elevator shaft. Then, May and her husband have this brief exchange-
‟Honey, I just saw someone really scary-looking. No,... not a human being. I don't know what it was... It was crawling up the pipes.‟
‟Maybe we should move.‟
‟No. We've spent enough money buying this apartment. And its cozy here. We just need to get used to it.‟
What??? There is some horror movie stupidity. No Big deal. You just saw some kind of strange, sub-human creature crawling around in the ductwork of your apartment building. But, ya' know, aside from the monstrosities scurrying around in the walls, the place is ‟cozy.‟ You'll get used to it.
Home Sweet Home (2005, aka. The Monster, and why on Earth its been retitled so generically is beyond me) is a strangely unbalanced horror movie. Much of it is firmly rooted in typical b-flick stumbles of plotting and character as well as budget and directing limitations, yet, the film has a bit of actual serious minded social commentary in its sub plotting and a handful of genuinely creepy scenes. So, it is the sort of film that I will say is mostly sorta' crappy and mediocre, but wins points for at least trying a little more than many low level slashers and spookfests.
May Cheng (Shu Qi- Gorgeous, Three Times, So Close, The Eye 2), her husband (Alex Fong), and son move into a just built apartment complex. May is very protective of her young boy, and it ends up being a justified over-concern after she is the lone witness to his abduction by a shadowy figure (Karena Lam- Inner Senses, Koma). There is little evidence to suggest just what exactly happened. The boy disappeared, and no one else saw him dragged away, so suspicion falls on the henpecking and now frenetically panicked May.
Convinced her son is still nearby, May and her husband search the complex and actually hear the boy in the underground parking garage. But, before they can rescue him, May's husband is attacked by a dirty, ragged figure, and again, suspicion falls on May. It is now up to the mother to convince others of the truth, including the other apartment dwellers and a skeptical detective (Lam Suet, who plays detectives as often as Sam Elliot plays a cowboy). She slowly uncovers the complex's history, how it was built over a site that previously held a community of squatters, hard working immigrants and low income native workers who were forced off the land after a series of brutal riots.
Director Soi Cheang (Horror Hotline... Big Head Monster, Love Battlefield, Death Curse) has a nack for these kind of uneven commercial pictures. He's a completely competent director, a bit half-assed at times, delivering a good sequence or two, and the kind of guy you can tell probably always comes in on budget and on time, so he'll always have a career so long as he doesn't try anything larger than your average commercial b-film.
Home Sweet Home may be the only horror film since the mid-80's, b-grade slasher Open House to feature a homeless person as the villain. Despite the fantastical elements and the glaring hokey horror flick logic gaps, the flashbacks that reveal how she became a burn scarred raggedy recluse are filmed with a near documentary realism, completely observational, her and her family going about their squatter life, and it is done in a way that really helps develop sympathy for her character. Yes, the realism of the flashbacks is all but ignored in other scenes and details, like how someone that dirty, scarred, and living off garbage for years can somehow scale pipes with superhuman strength and speed... but this is just a horror movie. The movie settles on a balancing act when it should have either aimed for the true life, message-horror of an abducted child and the desperation of poverty, or just settled for straight over the top cliches and horror movie ridiculousness. The two together simply does not work.
The most disappointing thing about Home Sweet Home isn't that it is a cheesy, run of the mill, b-level horror film. That I expected. No, the big letdown is that the two main actresses, Shu Qi and Karena Lam are actually much better than this. While she started off as a pretty annoying but strikingly beautiful piece of eye candy, Shu Qi has proven she has some acting chops in films like Three Times and Millennium Mambo, and despite the uneveness of Home Sweet Home's script, there are many scenes where she really commits to some hard emotions. Likewise, Karena Lam confusingly accepted this wordless, heavy makeup, monster role, I guess deciding a willingness to take the Lon Chaney route might separate her from the pack of Asian film starlets.
The DVD: Tai Seng
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. Decent but b-grade. I imagine a sharper and cleaner transfer cold be gleaned if one was really inclined, but, honestly, the material doesn't really warrant it. So what you get is a image that is just a mark or two diluted in all the major areas, from sharpness, to color vibrancy, to print cleanliness, and contrast depth. Technically there are some slight compression issues and ghosting, but not to any great severity that will have viewers screaming at the screen.
Sound: DTS and 5.1 Cantonese or Mandarin, optional Chinese or English subtitles. Pretty good sound design, though not exactly phenomenal when stacked up to most DTS and 5.1 mixes. The surround is just underutilized, so it comes across as a pretty quick mix. Still, the score is appropriately dynamic with some good pulsating drums and eerie strains. The subtitle translation was average, but then again, so was the dialogue transcribed.
Extras: Photo Gallery.--- Cast and director text bios.--- Trailer (Original and US).---‟Making of‟ Featurette (20:00). Nice featurette that shows the bipolar nature of the film, how they clearly did have some good, higher minded, message film intentions though it is still essentially a b-horror flick. The breezy featurette covers a lot of ground, from the actors approach, to their characters to the makeup fx.
Conclusion: There are mainly things to consider when leasing an apartment, chief among them demented homeless people crawling around in the walls. Sure, you may have a good lawsuit on your hands, but you also may never see that security deposit or first months rent returned because you could be bludgeoned while taking out the trash.
There are a few thing I have to consider when summing up a DVD review. Is it worth a viewers time or not, worth a rental, or a purchase. Home Sweet Home/The Monster is really the kind of film that is serviceable as a casual horror rental, likely to entertain if you are in the mood for some b-grade horror, but not likely to get many repeat viewings. Rent it.