London filmmaker Andrea Niada’s latest short Home Education (United Kingdom, 2016) is a brilliant, mesmerizing entry into my current favorite cinematic subgenre, “But is it horror?” films. It combines discomfiting images, a dark and dry wit, simmering tension, and stylish aesthetics, and the result is a 24-minute tragicomic excursion into a young woman’s increasingly bizarre sheltered existence.
Rachel (Kate Reed) is homeschooled by her mother Carol (Jemma Churchill), who has some unorthodox ideas about biology and other subjects, to say the least. As the film opens, Rachel’s father Philip (Richard Ginn) has died on his bed and is beginning to rot. Carol insists that if they let him know how much they miss him — through poetry, preparing dinner, and other innocuous rituals — he will return to them shortly. Rachel, knowing no better, buys into her mother’s ideas initially but as she makes some discoveries through her own critical thinking, a battle of wills becomes imminent.
Andrea Niada wrote and directed Home Education, and he has done a polished job in both departments. Rachel’s journey of enlightenment is revealed slowly and steadily, and the dialogue between the mother and daughter feels absurd but real. The majority of the short takes place in broad daylight or rather brightly lit rooms, with a few exceptions that border on an altogether different tone. Poom Saiyavath’s cinematography is a pleasure to behold.
The set design of the home is charming, complete with signs hung by Carol to constantly remind the family of the importance of cleanliness. These signs further point out the absurdness of the mother’s life philosophies and how committed she is to them.
A distinct highlight of Home Education is the commitment of the actors. Kate Reed is an absolute treasure as Rachel, questioning her cut-off world with wide eyes. Jemma Churchill finds the fine balance that makes domineering Carol both a preposterous, irrational figure and a sympathetic one because of those traits. The two actresses work wonderfully together, making their strained relationship feel authentic.
There are no graphic shocks or big scares in Home Education; the short instead delivers with a sense of growing unease; dread seems to be lurking just under the surface of this fractured family and its private world.
Home Education is currently on its film festival run. For more information, check out the short’s official website at http://www.homeeducationfilm.com/.
Home Education (4.5 / 5)