Don't Leave Home
2018, NR, 86 min. Directed by Michael Tully. Starring Anna Margaret Hollyman, Lalor Roddy, Helena Bereen, David McSavage, Karrie Cox.
REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., Sept. 14, 2018
It’s 1986, and an Irish priest returning from painting a landscape is met by a couple who wish to commission a painting of their young daughter. In an idyllic forest setting accompanied by a statue of the Virgin Mary, the priest begins his work. Suddenly, the scene is bathed in a heavenly light, which the priest captures on canvas. The painting completed, the couple proudly display the painting on their mantel. The next morning, the young girl cannot be found, and her image in the painting has likewise disappeared.
Thus begins Michael Tully’s Don’t Leave Home, a film steeped in a moody atmosphere that harks back to the supernaturally charged mysteries of Sixties and Seventies British cinema. Thirty years later, American artist Melanie (Hollyman) is putting the finishing touches on her new exhibit, a collection of hauntingly rendered dioramas titled “Lost Souls of Ireland,” in which she catalogs the many disappearances that have vexed Ireland over the last century, the aforementioned incident being the centerpiece. When her assistant prematurely leaks the exhibit to an art reviewer, it draws the attention of the priest Alistair Burke (Roddy), who, while being absolved of any wrongdoing, has nevertheless abandoned the priesthood and now lives in exile. Burke reaches out via his assistant Sherry (Bereen), and asks to fly Melanie to Ireland to commission a piece for him. She agrees, but is told not to tell anyone, as Burke is trying to maintain his anonymity.
Tully, along with cinematographer Wyatt Garfield and composer Michael Montes, has crafted an elegantly creepy pastiche. Through the foggy landscapes and grottos, and the imposing country house with its menacing Sheela na gigs and visions of a hulking cowled figure, the dream logic of the narrative unfurls. Sinister things are indeed in store for Melanie, but Tully rightly keeps some cards to himself. Often, contemporary horror films go out of their way to make everything crystal clear, but Don’t Leave Home’s elliptical tone is pitch perfect and the ending is quietly stunning. Forgo the warning of the title and enjoy the goosebumps.
Read our SXSW 2018 profile of Anna Margaret Hollyman.