Crazy-ex-girlfriend chiller “Homecoming” combines plot elements from “Misery” and “Fatal Attraction” (or the more recent “Obsessed”) to somewhat underwhelming effect, missing out on the chemistry between thesps that might have given indie helmer Morgan J. Freeman’s pic resonance. Low-budgeter makes expert use of bucolic Pennsylvania locations, capturing the ambiance of lower-class, small-town existence but, apart from its full investment in Mischa Barton’s unhinged ex, rather perfunctorily muddles through generic tropes. Competent but unimaginative horror entry bows July 17 in limited theatrical release en route to a potentially more lucrative cable and/or DVD afterlife.
A few months into his first year at Northwestern U., where he’s earned a football scholarship, Mike (a bland Matt Long) returns home to Mt. Bliss, Penn., bringing along new g.f. Elizabeth (Jessica Stroup) to meet the folks. Meanwhile, Shelby (Barton), in total denial about their breakup, eagerly awaits his return. When an accident delivers an injured Elizabeth to her care, the increasingly deranged Shelby holds her captive in the upstairs room where she once looked after her deceased mother. Elizabeth’s continued (if lame) attempts to escape, amid much huffing, puffing, moaning and groaning, trigger reprisals of escalating violence.
Freeman excels at capturing the casual intimacy of the characters’ relationships to their milieu. Stephen Kazmierski’s crisp lensing of autumnal Pennsylvania settings and weathered buildings imbues the hamlet and its inhabitants with the unquestioned authenticity of a familiar hometown. Mt. Bliss’ efforts to reclaim one of its own — through playing football, fishing and hanging out at the bowling alley/bar Shelby owns — rep benign versions of Shelby’s manic determination to cling to her romantic dreams.
The script posits rich, poetry-loving Elizabeth as a threat to alienate Mike from his “natural” environment. But as played by Stroup, she’svirtually indistinguishable from the locals, certainly not a satisfactory contrast to Barton’s football-mad, sexually charged, lower-class townies. With no backstory and little personality, locked in a claustrophobic battle of wills, Elizabeth comes off as wimpy puss to Shelby’s untamable wildcat, making Elizabeth difficult to root for.
In Freeman’s free-form personal projects (“Hurricane,” “Just Like the Son”), young men question their criminal proclivities, while in his more commercial gigs (“American Psycho II: All American Girl,” the underrated “Piggy Banks”), irredeemably fatal femmes wreak havoc. Unfortunately, though, Freeman’s fondness for female slashers does not extend to generic niceties: While Shelby swings quite compellingly into crazed-killer mode, the awkwardly staged, weakly edited action scenes often fall flat.