Home Invasion


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Home Invasion
"It strives to create an atmosphere of discomfort and paranoia. It achieves the former."

With camera technologies rapidly improving, the last decade has seen a flurry of new films created using all sorts of phones, tablets and similar devices, some of them looking surprisingly good. This is, however, probably the only time you will see a feature length documentary shot with a doorbell. This unusual choice seems to be an effort on the part of filmmaker Graeme Arnfield to centre the emotional experience of peering through a door as he explores the history of doorbells. In combination with repeated doorbell-inspired melodies and the use of fisheye-distorted text as an alternative to narration, it strives to create an atmosphere of discomfort and paranoia. It achieves the former.

Home Invasion screened as part of Docs Ireland 2024, but if you watch it at home, you may be best to approach it in chapters in order to avoid developing a headache. It lends itself to this quite well, with a narrative which jumps from subject to subject with enthusiasm but doesn’t always succeed in drawing convincing connections between them. It doesn’t present a complete history of the doorbell (there is evidence for them going back as far as the 9th Century) but focuses instead on various technologies associated with efforts to protect the home and its occupants, arguing that this is connected to a fracturing of society and a general tendency towards isolationism, mediated through capitalism. There is also a tangentially related section on the Luddite movement, for which Arnfield deserves praise, not least because most people today are only familiar with the movement from propaganda put about by its opponents, and it’s a rare thing to see it depicted this accurately.

Copy picture

The film has also been pitched as a horror movie, a label which is likely to lead to disappointment. Yes, there is a degree of existential horror inherent in these themes, but no more than one might find associated with any number of popular thrillers. There are also a number of scenes shot in unnecessarily low lighting, but they’re unlikely to send a shiver down your spine. Home Invasion justifiably lays claim to the term ‘experimental’, but otherwise the hype is a problem, distracting from what it does have going for it, which is some entertaining albeit overstretched storytelling.

That storytelling, cut though it sometimes is, meanders wildly. The moral meanings attached to it often let it down, feeling heavy-handed and clumsy. A collection of clips from film about various kinds of home invasion are pleasing mostly because they remind the viewer of better things. There are no surprises amongst them, and quite a few important omissions. Elsewhere, we are treated to sequences of footage recorded by doorbells in situ at various people’s houses, but what they reveal, whilst it might get suburban neighbourhood watch boards on edge, is mostly dull and harmless, telling us only that those who submitted it would go out of their minds within a month of moving into an apartment in the average city.

There are underlying ideas here deserving of exploration, but Arnfield has stretched them far too thin. The result feels more like an anthology of shorts than a single coherent documentary. It reminds us that technological advances can have socially regressive consequences, but who didn’t know that? It’s less evocative of invasion than of that feeling when you run to the door just to find a card claiming you weren’t in, as a delivery driver legs it across the road.

Reviewed on: 22 Jun 2024
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A nightmarish essay film on the history of the doorbell, tracing its invention and constant reinventions through 19th century labour struggles, the nascent years of narrative cinema, and contemporary surveillance cultures.

Director: Grame Arnfield

Year: 2023

Runtime: 92 minutes

Country: UK

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