Review: Domestic Hell

Directed by Colin Bressler and co-written with Ivy Lamb, Jack (Scotty Walker) is a man with many dark secrets, and the woman tied up in his spare bedroom is only the beginning. Also starring:  Angelita Aronce Sorensen, Sweet Van Loan, Billionna Olivia Reyes, June Griffin Garcia and Brooke Ochoa.

It’s very quickly established what kind of man Jack is, the score and his behaviour easily show that he’s predatory, creepy and possibly a serial killer. However, as the film progresses it becomes even more apparent what kind of character he is, extremely childish and lacking in strong presence, it’s very difficult to believe the moments where he attempts to be charming, as the way he’s portrayed by Walker lacks charisma, it’s a difficult task to create a character that can be both villain and hold that palpable charisma and he wasn’t up to that challenge. Generally with characters such as this they tend to be intelligent, getting away with a large number of different crimes is not an easy thing to do but it’s extremely hard to imagine that Jack is the type of person who would be smart enough to evade the police.  

One thing that really has to be said about the film is that, assumedly intended for an atmospheric change, it uses a high pitched note, that moves up and down in frequency but continues to ring for minutes at a time, it’s a choice that’s so lacking in any reasonable explanation that you begin to question if it was intentional of if there’s an issue with the audio. It genuinely gets to the point of giving you a headache and that you have to either stop watching it or turn the volume down to basically nothing. It would be one thing if this was only used once during a critical moment of the story but it happens frequently throughout and gets to a point where if you’re determined to keep watching, you have to turn the sound as low as possible and rely on the subtitles instead until it’s stopped to make it at all palatable.

A similar insipid choice is the repeated occasions of Jack describing sexual scenarios, it’s excessively uncomfortable and even to the point of irritating, it doesn’t feel as though it adds anything to the film, even though it’s most likely intended as a sinister, horror element. However it raises an issue of making you question their target audience, and whether it was the kind of people who watch rape porn, which is unconscionable so you would genuinely imagine that it’s not at all the case and is unintentional. However, it’s only further amplified by the inclusion of lesbianism via a huge dose of male gaze which gives a bad impression of the film. With these types of choices in writing and direction, it would have made a lot more sense to lean heavily on the horror element of it, to go all in on the kidnapping and murder aspects rather than having them feeling secondary to its attempts at drama.

It reflects a consistent problem with the film as a whole, of choices that are difficult to comprehend, particularly with the character of Julia, she’s poorly constructed and is constantly flip-flopping, in a manner that goes much beyond the psychology of an abuse victim to inconsistent writing. The film struggles throughout with portraying abuse victims, though they make up basically half of the characters, there’s only a very basic understanding of the mindset and behaviours which makes those characters feel unconvincing. Instead of increasing the vulnerability and sensitivity of the victims, it focuses more on just having them recount their experiences, which is less effective. The cast have difficulty for the entirety with making the emotions feel genuine, there’s a lot of actions that feel forced and it particularly undercuts those moments of trying to delve into their traumatic experiences.

There are also a number of examples where detail orientation is lacking, such as the ‘missing’ posters that Olivia hands out, which have no contact information on them and when Dahlia continually asks to die, there are actually a number of different objects well within her reach that she could use to kill herself including string lights, lightbulbs, china, and even what appears to be a chicken wire lampshade. There also aren’t enough security measures to make it seem as though Dahlia couldn’t have made several decent and possibly even successful escape attempts. Also, particularly her choices in the latter moments of the film are baffling, which would require spoilers to elaborate but it’s one of the classic horror gaffs that when characters finally get to a key point, they make the wrong decision, simply because the film isn’t at its finale yet. It’s reflective of another classic horror film issue which the film has, leaving the majority of the plot events until the last 20-30-minutes, it’s a typically a structure that lends to an unsatisfying viewing experience.

In the end, the film is incredibly difficult to make it to the finish line, the plot moves much too slowly and the direction is extremely self-indulgent, most of the almost 2-hours run-time is simply dedicated to re-iterating that Jack is a bad guy, but that was established much too early for the majority of the film to be dedicated to it. It’s aggravating to watch, it continually focuses on Jack’s disgusting personality rather than moving the plot along and establishing more of a story. There was the potential to tell a story here of victims banding together to fight against injustice, to stand up against men who think that they’re purely objects and possessions to please them but it went so firmly in the opposite direction that it’s beyond frustrating. Adding in that high pitched tone, immediately set the possibility of enjoyment severely low and it never recovers.

Verdict: ✯

If you’re a glutton for punishment and want to give it a go, it’s currently available on Amazon Prime Video

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