Film Review: Welcome Home

Newest entry in the popular hell-vacation vein finds an American couple discovering that the idyllic Italian villa they booked online really is too good to be true.
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Cassie and Bryan (Emily Ratajkowski and Aaron Paul) are hoping that a six-day vacation in a breathtaking, renovated 13th-century monastery surrounded by lush vineyards will help heal the wounds inflicted by Cassie’s infidelity. She’s genuinely remorseful and Bryan is trying, but he’s still haunted by thoughts of her with another man.

The house is spectacular and comes complete with a wine cellar and pool, and a welcoming card that entreats them to think of this fantasy abode as their “home.” The grounds and surrounding area are lovely and peaceful, and friendly English-speaking caretaker Federico (Riccardo Scamarcio) lives nearby and assures them that he’s happy to come over and take care of any problems that may arise.

Everything’s going pretty well, though the handsome Federico’s frequent visits and oh-so-Italian flirty behavior create some tension between the fragile couple. What neither knows but the viewer learns relatively early on is that there are surveillance cameras hidden throughout the house and a bank of television screens in the basement, from which Federico is watching them do everything from fix dinner to make love. And that’s not the worst of it.

It was inevitable that in a world where 24/7 quotidian surveillance is an increasingly common part of ordinary people’s everyday lives, filmmakers would respond with thrillers about toxic watchers, obsessed stalkers of every stripe who use ever more easily available and readily concealed technology to invade the privacy of others. Traditional stalkers and peeping Toms with their binoculars and telephoto lenses were scary enough—especially, though not exclusively, to women—when they had to maintain some physical presence to keep a creepy eye on the objects of their obsession. But now that miniature cameras and microphones are easily hidden in everything from briefcases to household fixtures and the web can be used to stream video around the globe, what used to be labeled paranoia is looking like healthy concern.

Welcome Homeis far from the first film to exploit the fear of weird voyeurs with up-to-the-moment toys at their disposal, from Michael Powell’s classic Peeping Tom (1960) to Adam Rifkin’s Look (2007) and the recent 13 Cameras (2015) and its sequel, 14 Cameras, which was released earlier this year—but it’s still the stuff of nightmares, as more recent (and graphic) films like Hostel (2005), The Cabin in the Woods (2012) and many others attest. Director George Ratliff, of the bad-seed thriller Joshua (2007) and 2004 documentary Hell House, about the popular Christian Halloween-scare attractions, is mining familiar territory here. At this point we all know it’s not just Big Brother you have to worry about…anyone with a valid credit card and a modicum of tech savvy can hack your life, wreak havoc and swap the chaos with like-minded individuals.

But Welcome Home also features surprisingly strong performances from Ratajkowski, Scamarcio and Paul (“Breaking Bad”) and ends with a nifty little parting shot whose implicit condemnation of mindlessly consuming the lives of others should give audiences a little chill. But odds are it won’t, now that the ever-present spectacle of reality-TV shows has both desensitized viewers to video voyeurism and reassured them that everyone—participants and viewers alike—is complicit in the game and no one really gets hurt. They just pick up their checks, cash in on their endorsements and go on to the next installment of the show that never ends, safe in the conviction that none of it has any real consequences.