...there is so little new or innovative about it that if you're a normal moviegoer, you've seen it all before.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

This is not a direct-to-video product, but it's close. Like many of director Morgan J. Freeman's previous films, 2009's "Homecoming" got a limited theatrical release, so for all intents and purposes it is getting a première on DVD. I mention this because these days the direct-to-video movie is essentially the equivalent of the old B-movie, the low-budget film that used to accompany the main attraction on a double bill. Audiences didn't expect much from the B-movie because it usually came from a second or third-tier director and less-than-stellar actors. Certainly, a film like "Homecoming" fulfills these requirements. We expect little, and we get little.

If the story line for this horror thriller seems at all familiar, stop me. Screenwriter Katie L. Fetting borrows heavily from movies like "Fatal Attraction," "Misery," and "Obsessed." Then she peppers the proceedings with clichés from every horror thriller ever made. Put it this way: If you don't get out to the movies much or see many films on TV, you might enjoy "Homecoming." It's a slick, well-crafted production, with decent-enough acting. It's just that there is so little new or innovative about it that if you're a normal moviegoer, you've seen it all before.

Here's the deal: Mike Donaldson (Matt Long) is returning from college to his old home town, Mt. Bliss, PA, during Homecoming Week because he was a big football star in high school, and they're honoring him at a halftime show. He brings his girlfriend, Elizabeth Mitchum (Jessica Stroup), along with him to meet his parents. Ah, but there's a snag: Mike's old flame, Shelby Mercer (Mischa Barton), doesn't remember that she and Mike broke up. When he returns, she still thinks they're an item, that they're still together. Somehow, she was always fragile, and the breakup sent her over the edge. Now, she's completely nuts. Only nobody in town notices.

The new girlfriend, Elizabeth, is not only beautiful but supposedly a smart, up-and-coming person, a psych major. Shelby never went on to college, instead staying on in little Mt. Bliss running a bowling alley. So Shelby is doubly jealous and doubly nutso about her situation.

The only other character of note in the story is Billy Fletcher (Michael Landes), Mike's cousin and seemingly the town's only policeman. As in most such pictures, we have to imagine these people as much younger because the movie implies that most of them are only recently out of high school. However, the actors' ages vary wildly: the two actresses were twenty-three when they made the film, Long was twenty-nine, and Landes thirty-seven. It's a convention in such films for older actors to play younger people, so use your imagination.

Remember I said Elizabeth was smart? Before she meets Mike's parents, she gets totally wasted. How smart is that? Then, somehow, she decides to stay in a motel for the night, but they're all full up, so with Mike's having left for his parents' house, Elizabeth sets out wandering the roads from one motel to another trying to find a room. Naturally, Shelby runs her down with her car. Yeah, it's going to be that kind of film.

Shelby takes Elizabeth home, sedates her (she just happens to have a house full of medical supplies from having taken care of her ill mother before her death), and keeps her captive. What she intends to do next is anybody's guess; she's a looney. Oh, and did I mention that Shelby lives in the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" house in the middle of nowhere? I thought you'd have figured that one by yourself.

Once this exposition and setup are over, which only take up the first few minutes of the movie, there is not a lot of plot to develop, even though we've got three-quarters of the film left to go. Mainly, the rest of the movie is a series of anemic attempts on Elizabeth's part to escape. Of course, she is unsuccessful because if she were, we'd have only a fifteen-minute flick.

Like all women victims in horror thrillers, Elizabeth is a helpless female. This despite, as I've said several times, the film telling us that Elizabeth is an intelligent woman. For instance, she doesn't think to escape at any time Shelby is absent from the house, only when she's in the next room. She can't open the windows but doesn't think to break the glass. Et cetera.

And like all villains, Shelby is unstoppable.

By the end of "Homecoming," things get very unpleasant and very dumb. However, in the movie's defense I never felt compelled to throw a shoe through the television screen. Director Morgan J. Freeman is too clever for that. Instead, it all seems like harmless, if meaningless and redundant, nonsense, without a trace of suspense or terror. So, basically, the movie is too innocuous for one to dislike it too much.

Paramount Home Entertainment transferred the picture to disc in its original 1.85:1 theatrical ratio in anamorphic widescreen, enhanced for 16x9 televisions. The results are better than the movie probably deserves. Colors are deep, rich, and well contrasted, perhaps overly dark, although it suits the mood of the story. There are strong black levels involved, too, nicely setting off the hues. While a thin, natural film grain gives the image a slightly rough look, object delineation remains fairly sharp. Yes, the PQ could be a bit smoother, but for standard definition, it looks fine.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio displays a good front-channel stereo spread and a properly balanced frequency range, with a few solid bass wallops along the way. The midrange clarity helps to convey dialogue easily, and the only thing missing is much surround activity. The rear (and side) channels do kick in a bit during the climax and occasionally in some of the louder musical passages; that's about it.

Understandably, given the nature of the film, there are not a lot of extras involved. The main thing is a series of four deleted scenes in non-anamorphic widescreen that amount to a couple of minutes each. In addition, there are some trailers and promos at start-up and in the main menu; fifteen scene selections; English as the only spoken language; and English and Spanish subtitles.

Parting Shots:
One can understand why nobody chose to open this movie nationally; the cost of distribution and advertising would have cost far more than the film would have earned back. There's simply nothing about "Homecoming" that would attract much of an audience, especially with the bad reviews and bad word of mouth that would undoubtedly have resulted. Well paced and well produced or not, it is essentially just another imitation horror thriller.


Film Value