Home Sweet Hell review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
There are dark comedies and then there are mean comedies. Dark comedies find an absurdity and unique humor in such subjects as death and destruction of society. Doctor Strangelove is a prime example for laughing at the mistakes that lead to the apocalypse. Mean comedies create the most vile and disgusting characters, expecting you to laugh or feel something when they are brutalized and punished for accidents and misdeeds. Up until now I always used the film Very Bad Things as an example in how it portrayed scummy characters killing each other over a dirty secret. But now Home Sweet Hell has taken its place in my mind as the king of awful, mean-spirited comedies.
The film is a depraved microcosm of shady business people and violent scamming thugs. It’s a world where meek men like Don (Patrick Wilson) are chewed up and spat out in repetition. Despite being the business owner of a successful furniture store, it’s Don’s domineering wife Mona (Katherine Heigl) that takes more control. Her shrewd lifestyle has become so controlling that she has to schedule sexual intercourse weeks in advance to be intimate with Don. She’s a vicious man-hating wife who praises her daughter and shuns her son. This naturally leaves Don a mess of sexual frustration and unease at both home and office. So he shyly jumps at the sexual advances of his new young hire Dusty (Jordana Brewster). But, what a shock, turns out she just wants to scam him out of money by faking a pregnancy.
There are no women who genuinely love a reasonably good looking man as Don in this universe. They are all evil individuals who aim to destroy men at every turn. Even Don’s daughter is raised to be as such the way she looks down on her brother, smearing her perfect grasp of the French language in his face at every turn. Mona becomes a cartoonish figure in how she manipulates Don into a life of cover-up murders to maintain the prim and proper suburban life. While she coldly and calmly cuts up bodies, Don stares helplessly off to the side in quiet desperation.
Of course, we’re all waiting for that moment where he says enough is enough and finally gets revenge, but it’s held off until the very last minute of the picture. For almost the entire film, we’re mostly just watching Don being taken advantage of by everyone including a gang of thugs that force him to try crystal meth. He’s kicked down by everyone in the film for so long that I don’t even care if he gets revenge. I just wanted this depressingly misguided nightmare of a black comedy to end.
The material is already devoid of any laughs for being so despicable, but it’s not helped by the performances. Katherine Heigl said in an interview that this role was out of her wheelhouse for being so dark. It’s not only out of her wheelhouse; it’s outside reality. I can’t blame her for throwing herself into the role of a psychopathic woman who cuts up people, but this isn’t the role to showcase her darkly comedic edge. She’s sufficient villain material, but villains only work well if there are heroes. In comparison, Patrick Wilson is sort of just doing his usual shtick of acting awkwardly around all the madness - too shy to take part in any of this farce. Both of these actors could have had their satirical moments to shine, but they’re bogged down in the muck of a script that finds more comedy in bad things happening to bad people.
While the film is an easy target as a misogynistic rant, there is one element that slightly intrigued me about this setup. Don’s bloody revenge doesn’t occur until the very end of the picture as he spends most of the movie being a manipulated puppet. Perhaps the film drags this aspect out long enough so that Don appears somewhat justified in killing his wife, extending it outward to be more considerate for woman before taking the dark plunge. Of course, in order to buy into that logic, you have to believe it’s right for a husband to murder his wife. And even if you bought into that, you’re still left with an empty conclusion about how horrible married life appears. The more I think about it, I just know this horrible little film is going to be used as a source in some terrible term paper on the subject of attacking women.
Home Sweet Hell could be funny if it weren’t so occupied with being a vulgar war of the sexes. Not only does it refuse to offer any moral ground to a single event that transpires, but it also makes the fatal mistake of not taking advantage of the satirical possibilities. One need only look to films like Serial Mom and Grosse Point Blank for telling and entertaining tales that can playfully splash in dark comedic waters. Home Sweet Hell, in comparison, is a bitter and rancid concoction that only aims to offend. There’s no specific target for whom it wants to offend, but it’s most likely anyone who has a shred of empathy in their soul for the opposite sex. It’s too easy to say this film hates women. It just hates people in general.