Can Evrenol’s new feature, Housewife, follows his stirring debut and descent into hell, Baskin, and it’s a pitch-perfect sophomore effort from one of the most unique and striking new voices working in the genre.
With so many horror directors, especially ones who introduced themselves with a shocking, ambitious debut, you can feel a desire from them to top what came before. When Eli Roth hit the scene with his gore-filled ode to early 80’s exploitation, Cabin Fever, his second feature, Hostel, upped the ante even more with visceral blood-letting and Artaud-esque testing of limits that we hadn’t become accustomed to yet in a post 9/11 world. And because of these first two films (and third, and fourth…) Roth has the label, self-imposed or not, as a new king of shock cinema. And hey, I like Eli Roth’s movies for what they are! Some I think even transcend themselves, like Hostel: Part II and his mock trailer, Thanksgiving. But when his name pops in your head, I dare you to find someone that doesn’t immediately conjure up images of Bijou Phillips strapped to a chair, or Jordan Ladd with her face half gone. That will not happen to Can Evrenol. Housewife languidly and methodically crawls across the screen with every stark red and cool blue that he paints with the brushes of his Italian Horror inspirations. But he doesn’t allow the cinema that came before him to trap him into what you expect an “homage to Italian cinema” to be.
To know the full plot ahead of time would really be a disservice to the experience of watching Housewife, but if you do need to convince a friend to come along with you, you can tell them this: Housewife is about a woman, Holly (played with immaculate, twisting anxiety by Clémentine Poidatz), who suffered a traumatic event in her childhood that now has begun to affect her adult life. Holly and her husband’s old friend Valerie returns to Turkey having left abruptly to be a “Family Member” of the Umbrella of Love and Mind. U.L.M. can only be described as a fine blending of Joel Osteen branded MegaChurch evangelism with the charisma and charm of a Tony Robbins self-help guru wrapped into a Dream Doomsday Cult led by the enigmatic Robert O’Hara (played with a devilish charm by David Sakurai.) O’Hara deems himself a “Dream Surfer”, gifted with the ability to connect to people in ways we may never be able to comprehend. As O’Hara senses a presence in the crowd, he says aloud: “She is the one.” And then things begin to unravel.
Housewife is of the style that to appropriately talk about it would mean to spoil a lot of the fun places that this film traverses. But I can say that it is truly unpredictable within its own predictability. One key frame of a shot may give away a large reveal towards the latter half of the film that your eye will naturally gravitate to, but there’s nothing to truly grasp onto that what you expect to happen will actually occur. And if so: how?
If it seems like I’m being dodgy, it is extremely purposeful. There honestly is not much in the early marketing of the film that will clue you in on what this movie really is, and it would be a crime to spoil it. But once you finally land in this new territory in the latter third act of the film, it doesn’t rip you out of the previous 80 minutes like I foresee many future critics decrying. It rather feels like a winding, intricate bow on the top of a very strange little box. The logic of dreams is that there is no logic. In dreams, if you see fantastically nightmarish imagery, you don’t try to rationalize it. Because it just is. A painting by Degas may show ballerinas, but that doesn’t mean that it is about the motion of the body.
Yet also it should be said that the film isn’t an homage or a pastiche, and while it clearly is deeply inspired by the works of Lucio Fulci and Mario Bava, it veers away from the trappings that other more recent highly specific, stylized films tend to do which is to not just be inspired by the work, but, in a way, attempt to copy them. With the exception of one small clear nod to Mario Bava’s 1977 film Shock, Evrenol doesn’t lift anyone thing directly from the masters that came before him. And rather than the film being a mere love letter to these directors, filled with clear odes to color and sound design of the late 70s, it is like a soft clay sculpture that he has shaped anew saying, “You’ve given me all the tools to follow in your footsteps, but down my own path”, rather than trying to press his feet into every footprint left before him. He makes a clear indelible statement in this film: not only is Can Evrenol a director to continue to watch, but he is the first luminous voice in the genre of our decade. A true cinematic artist, which I’m sure the humble director would rebuff.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the film bears a striking resemblance to what can be argued as the most controversial film of 2017, a resemblance that the director himself will be the first to admit. But as both films were in production at similar times, and with Housewife being spun out of Can Evrenol’s short film To My Mother And Father (which can be viewed from his website), it’s going to be a god damn shame that critics and audiences alike will draw comparisons and connections to this other work. Despite some coincidental correlations, they really are quite polar opposites, especially when viewing how our lead character's journey is treated. But that’s what makes art still so mysterious and exciting, that because of cultural zeitgeist and upheaval, we can encounter an almost limited singularity. It means these stories are important and need to be told.
In the post-show Q&A, Evrenol said that the film was a love letter to his mother and wife, much to the perplexion of the audience and chagrin of his other half, Elif Domanic, who is responsible for the simplistic elegant costume design (much of which was culled from Ms. Domanic’s own personal wardrobe, including a stunning crocodile belt that, fun fact, just so happens to be the exact replica to Sharon Stone’s in Basic Instinct!). While Can himself had difficulty putting into words the intention behind the statement, he boiled it down to this: he loves these women in his life, and he loves making these types of films, so in essence, all of his art is made for his loved ones. But I do think this is also a love letter to the fans of this genre, those that are constantly searching under the mossy rock for a new kind of life and jubilantly accepting what they find, for better or worse. Genre fans will constantly wade through the muck in hopes of striking gold, and in many ways Can made that murky journey for us. He distills so many elements from the Italian maestros, many of whom we may never get to see or hear of, then fills it with all the textures and characteristics we expect from films that we expect from this exciting new visionary -- something that is both new and old simultaneously. Maybe it’s truly a love letter to these directors. Maybe it doesn’t really matter. As a character posits late in the game, sometimes things just are. And Housewife just is. What it is is purely up to you.