For many of us, there's probably nothing scarier than meeting your new partner's kids.
Holly (Aisling Loftus) is travelling with her husband Richard (Tom Goodman-Hill) to his ex's house to meet his three children. His relationship with his ex is fractious, limited to text conversations. When they arrive, they find their hosts to be the three children alone. Their mother Nina is nowhere to be found.
The youngest, Anna (Raffiella Chapman) is a precocious little girl with a dark habit of burying her dolls in a makeshift graveyard in the garden. The middle child, Lucia (Hattie Gotobed), is an aloof teenager, prone to playing devil's advocate when it comes to communicating with her father and new stepmother. Ralph (Lukas Rolfe) is quiet and awkward, seemingly controlled by Lucia.
The house is remote, with various nooks and crannies, large grounds, and expensive tableware. The children seem to be capable of mostly caring for themselves, with Richard seeming to be unsurprised by this. Holly grows concerned by what she sees, as Richard gives even the youngest child alcohol with dinner, encourages Lucia to kill a goose, and shows his true colours as things escalate in the disturbing final act.
Homebound is a sparse and heartless piece of work. Its hyper realism makes some allowances for the children's slightly wooden performances. But despite their youth, director Sebastian Godwin has asked a lot of them. Running at a tight 70 minutes, there is perhaps some room for more development. From the start there is some indication that something isn't right, and you can see where it's going from a mile away for the most part, ultimately making it feel like it is treading water at times despite the short length.
This also causes some issues in terms of whether you believe what you are seeing, whether the story would progress the way it does without some sort of adult intervention. There is no hint that perhaps what is happening is paranoia, there is no conflict to say otherwise, so why doesn't anyone do anything?
We've had plenty of stories where kids aren't the innocent creatures we're supposed to believe they are. So, something else is needed to balance out that fear. There is none of that here.
That said, Homebound is effective and works hard to draw you into its premise. The ending, albeit unsurprising, is still unsettling. The remote location plays into the nervous dread encouraged in the final act, it just may leave you wanting a little more.
Homebound is in cinemas 1 April and on digital 4 April from Blue Finch Film Releasing