Home Sweet Home: Where Evil Lives


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Home Sweet Home: Where Evil Lives
"Dark family secrets and a desire to defray guilt at any cost underscore an eerie ghost story which hits harder because everything is so immediate." | Photo: courtesy of Frightfest

Across Europe, Germany has won respect for its approach to education and the management of narratives around the Nazi era, taking responsibility for the sins of its past and actively engaging in efforts to prevent the growth of other fascist movements. There were, however, other dark episodes in its past (as in those of many of its neighbours) which have not faced the same kind of scrutiny. Thomas Sieben’s latest film, which screened as part of Frightfest 2023, brings one of them into the light.

Maria (Nilam Farooq) is eight months pregnant and somewhat fatigued, as if common at that stage, but she’s still busy, opening up the old Wellings house which belongs to her husband’s family, making plans for the B&B which she hopes to open there. In the early evening, as she looks around outside, she is approached by a neighbour, Mike (Anton Fatoni Schneider), who brings her a present to welcome her. She tells him about her intention to build a terrace along the side of the house and he says that that area is used by his bees. She says that they will have to move. It’s a little thing, but in the context of what is to come, her unexamined sense of entitlement speaks volumes.

Styled in imitation of a single take film, what begins as a peaceful rumination on middle class country life takes on a more sinister aspect when, alone in the spacious house as darkness falls, Maria begins to hear odd noises. Is there someone else there? Her husband is apparently at work elsewhere, in the middle of an important meeting, but she is able to let him know that she’s uneasy and he, worried about the pregnancy, promises to get there as soon as he can. Then the lighting begins to flicker, and she does one of those things which is expressly forbidden in horror films, going down into the basement by herself.

Dark family secrets and a desire to defray guilt at any cost underscore an eerie ghost story which hits harder because everything is so immediate. In its invocation of the uncanny, it also takes advantage of that altered feeling of vulnerability which comes with pregnancy, the need to protect another which changes every calculation involving risk to one’s person. Maria is not portrayed as physically helpless but it’s clear from the start how easily little things tire her, and a spot of pre-partum bleeding makes her anxious to comply with her doctor’s orders to rest. She also needs to avoid stress, which makes a discovery in the basement particularly concerning. On top of all this, she knows that fluctuating hormones could interfere with her judgement, so it’s harder for her to be confident in asserting herself, difficult to keep arguing when she’s offered reassurance and presented with reasonable explanations for what she thinks is happening.

To the viewer, aspects of what’s happening are clear much earlier than they are to her, but in the absence of useful context, this doesn’t do a great deal more than reassure us that we’re right to take her side. As the story gradually begins to take shape, seasoned horror viewers will likely find themselves ahead of the script, but it’s the underlying themes which really give the film its potency. Farooq is a strong lead and there’s fantastic support from Olga von Luckwald as a friend who tries to do right by her. A pivotal conversation between the two women shifts the mood, restoring a sense of normal values which makes other events more disconcerting by contrast.

Late pregnancy has always been recognised as a liminal time, a point at which the ordinary, day to day processes of life brush up against the existential in a way which challenges our civilised distance from the blunt realities of life. To endure it, Maria has to keep her eyes on the future, to be prepared to see things in a new way – if she has a future at all.

Reviewed on: 29 Aug 2023
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Home Sweet Home: Where Evil Lives packshot
A heavily pregnant woman starts readying her fiancé’s rural family estate for bed and breakfast guests. Strange noises start occurring, the electricity keeps failing and she thinks she sees a prowler on the premises. Investigating the cellar she finds a secret room that hints at dark secrets in the Welling family past, linked to the brutal German colonial history of the Herero genocide in 1904.

Director: Thomas Sieben

Writer: Thomas Sieben

Starring: Nilam Farooq, David Kross, Justus von Dohnányi, Olga Von Luckwald

Year: 2023

Runtime: 84 minutes

Country: Germany


Frightfest 2023

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