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Home Sweet Hell

Sony Pictures // R // April 7, 2015
List Price: $30.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted April 22, 2015 | E-mail the Author
The Film:

Hollywood has been using the facade of suburbia for dark drama and even darker comedy for quite a while now. In the era of social-media where people tend to divulge only the positives of their lives, carefully selecting glimpses into their everyday activities to create an idealistic picture, that misleading artifice continues to be a relevant target for satire alongside the "traditional" views of what a nuclear family unit should be. Home Sweet Hell? Well, it's about what you'd expect after hearing the title and seeing Katherine Heigl on the promotional artwork with a kitchen knife and a piercing gaze, playing to expectations about a twisted housewife maintaining the appearance of a spotless family. Alas, this stab at an unnerving spoof of the suburbs only has its overbearing discomfort and exaggerated one-note spouses going for it, devoid of either laughs or surprises while stumbling between the deadpan thrills of being married to the ultimate control freak.

Really, it's hard to believe that furniture salesman Don Champagne (Patrick Wilson) could cope with a fraction of the severity imposed on him by Mona (Katherine Heigl), his wife, whose dependence of goals, schedules, and general flawlessness result in an unrewarding and hostile atmosphere around their house. That goes double for the couple's sex life, falling into the "schedule" portion of Mona's grasp on their day-to-day with arbitrary dates set for them to get it on ... typically amounting to six times a year, despite Don's unscheduled advanced. So, when an incredibly attractive and flirtatious new applicant, Dusty (Jordana Brewster), pops up at the furniture store for a sales job, a severely repressed Don -- encouraged by his boozy co-worker, Les (Jim Belushi) -- almost immediately takes her on, in more than a few ways. Naturally, Mona isn't really the type who'd respond to infidelity very well, yet her husband isn't prepared for the lengths she's willing to go to preserve their picturesque marriage and further their goals.

Even without seeing the trailer -- which basically gives away the entire plot, so view with caution if you're still interested -- everything about Home Sweet Hell plays out in stale and predictable dark-comedy fashion, from the reason behind Dusty's overly-flirtatious attitude to Mona's misanthropic reaction to Don's screw-ups. Granted, that familiarity is a symptom of having seen more intriguing versions of suburban dysfunction and closeted psychosis, from The Stepford Wives and Serial Mom to, more relevantly, David Fincher's recent adaptation of Gone Girl, many of which have embedded themselves into popular culture for taking on "the American dream". But director Anthony Burns offers little in the film's elevated-reality, broad-stroked blend of domestic talking points to make one forget about its predecessors, especially since there's no mystery in where this trainwreck's headed, only the expectation of when and how the wife's going to fly off the rails.

It doesn't help that Mona acts as if she's the physical embodiment of passive-aggressiveness, nothing but wall-to-wall spite and snark while staying the course towards her oft harped-upon "goals". That relentlessness may be part of Katherine Heigl's character and a deliberate spoof of the public perception of the actress herself, but it makes for an incredibly rigid character experience. Typically, Heigl only shines when gradually allowed to break from the stiffness of whatever role she's playing, but she's never given those windows here, only fluctuating in self-composed fury when something deviates from her expectations ... or when she's holding a buzzsaw or a katana. Similarly, Patrick Wilson's typically solid charisma gets wrung out into a flimsy sycophant pushed beyond his breaking point, forming a trapped and apologetic spaz caught in a dubious affair for unsurprising reasons. Intentional or not, both are made up of little more than inflated one-dimensional traits that ring false as authentic people; the only one with any genuine depth is Jordana Brewster's feisty, ambitious homewrecker, Dusty.

For all its situational antics and satirical tendencies, it takes a dose of straight-up, somewhat morbid slapstick comedy to elicit a response worth taking away from Home Sweet Hell. There's a scene where Mona slips on a pool of blood after taking her murderous endeavors to the next level, and it's surprising that such a simple thing ended up being the only time the film's aloof blend of black humor and noir-esque tension got a chuckle out of me. In the bizarre space between strong female characterization and burgeoning misogyny, director Burns sends Don weaseling through a maze of manipulation and pressure with countless opportunities for smarter absurdity than what transpires here, even when the full potential of Mona's sadistic tendencies comes to the surface. After splashes of gleeful gore and increasingly unlikely happenings that barrel towards an odious ending, it becomes abundantly clear that there's nothing amazing enough about this haughty soccer-mom psycho to have ever been worth the charade.

The Blu-ray:

Video and Audio:

Home Sweet Hell's vibrant digital photography looks as though Mona had a hand in its well-composed details, which make for an excellent viewing experience through Sony's 2.35:1-framed, 1080p AVC treatment. To be succinct, there's nothing to complain about. Warm skin tones and fine details hallmark the prevalent conversation scenes, boosted by stylish clothes off the racks of higher-end department stores and perfectly-quaffed hair styling. Vivid splashes of color -- pink-and-purple flower bikinis, verdant lawns, blood spatter-- command a strong presence in both interior and exterior shots, while nighttime scenes in Don's furniture store and at the seedier outposts of the suburban town (a strip club and a ramshackle trailer park) lurk in dim shadows that never block out details in the darkness. Everything's clean without being smooth, expressing satisfying high-definition depth and persistent control over minimizing digital noise and distortion.

It's to be expected that a film largely about elevated-reality dysfunction in middle-class America won't have all that much to boast in terms of audio prowess, but Home Sweet Hell telegraphs punches in every crucial area in its 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio presentation: natural dialogue, immersive music, and natural atmosphere. Verbal clarity is top-shelf through Sony's Blu-ray, with Katherine Heigl's alto tempo and Patrick Wilson deeper registry displaying a consistently authentic presence across the front channels, allowing the nuance of their frustration and spite to come through in their razor-sharp inflections. The rear channels and bass response are mostly reserved for the music, which sounds fantastic, but there are a few instances -- sprinklers and chirping birds, a pool party in the distance, a clap of thunder -- that emphasize a desired atmosphere with pitch-perfect balance against both front and back stages. And when a saw whirrs and a blade pierces, it's satisfyingly clear and position at the center, if a bit constricted there. rench and Spanish Master Audio tracks are also available, along with optional English, French, and Spanish subs.

Special Features:

Alongside a long run of Deleted Scenes (18:22, 16x9 HD) and a series of Outtakes (6:04, 16x9 HD), the Blu-ray arrives with a by-the-book interview featurette, Suburban Butchery: Making Home Sweet Hell (10:02, 16x9 HD). Director Burns and the primary actors gleefully talk about the how everyone got interested in the project and worked with one another, spliced together with a generous helping of clips from the film. Patrick Wilson also took the time to record a full, goofy Champagne Furniture & Rugs Commercial (:43, 16x9 HD) that has been made available in full here.

Final Thoughts:

Home Sweet Hell fancies itself to be a dark, satirical portrait of what's hiding underneath the suburban facade, but it's neither inventive nor humorous enough to work as either comedy or quasi-dramatic suspense. Landing in a surreal in-between space between the two with shallow spousal characters dialed up to eleven for impact, it's a frustrating and unsurprising iteration of recycled ideas without a clear idea of what it'd like its flip on morality and family values to express. Sony Home Entertainment's Blu-ray looks and sounds terrific for those who'd like to give it a crack, but I'd say just Skip It.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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