Today’s short film pick, Homesick, begins innocuously enough: at a seedy motel, a man in a suit whiles away his time with a six-pack and cartoons on the TV. At this point the branching tree of possible plotlines is broad, but the staging and cinematography connote crime fiction and that leads us to certain associations. Is this man here to do a drug deal? Is he already on the run? Patiently, the film unfurls. He receives a mysterious phone call, then a grizzled fixer arrives and tersely gives instructions. The motel seems a sort of waystation, is our suited man, possibly on the run, paying for a fresh identity? Yes. Sort of…
There is a degree of pleasure to be had from coming in blind to Homesick. Like many of my favorite films it is slippery in its relation to genre, and the resultant sense of traveling without guardrails generates a degree of suspense where even the logline and my introduction feel like unfortunate spoilers. One of our team’s top picks from this year’s SXSW film festival, the short is described by its writer/director, Will Seefried, as an attempt at an “absurdist thriller”, and if that sounds a bit like cinephile Mad Libs to you, the extent to which Homesick hits its mark exemplifies its resistance to classification.
Marketing a short demands some spoiling, unfortunately, as well as an attempt at classification, so I will try. Homesick is a dark comedy that emerges from its crime genre setup to morph into a hi-concept evocation of nostalgia and arrested development. Its story, of a grown man who jumps at a chance to relive his childhood, is bizarre, awkward, and cringe-inducing—it is also incredibly relatable, tapping into universal emotions and impulses. The awkwardness is less the desire itself than the transgression of attempting to meet it (as well as the mortifying step of enlisting others to play along). Played straight throughout, the film maintains a low-key tone but revels in its absurdity, generating frisson from uncomfortable moments. In that sense it evokes the work of contemporary practitioners of the absurd, such as Yorgos Lanthimos via its alienated lead, or Charlie Kaufman and his explorations of the meta-aspect to life and performance.
While this central idea, of a retreat where adults could be kids again, has percolated in Seefried’s mind for years, the central hook is timely to our current cultural mood. Seefried has remarked that Covid was a trigger in getting the concept out of his head and onto the page, as the collective desire of wanting to “go back” to a time before the deadly disease seemed omnipresent. I would argue that the film jives well with our self-improvement mania: in a world of Goop and Tim Ferris, the wellness industrial complex and self-care, of Peleton celebrities and Jordan Peterson, we are cheerily exhorted via social media to optimize all aspects of our life in manner that is meant to be empowering but winds up exhausting. If one presumes to have the agency to remake their life in a platonic manner, the natural impulse would be go back in time, to fix the moments of the past that were formative to today’s pathologies.
“We recreate childhood experiences in hopes of finding different outcomes”
This fixation on the past is personal for Seefried. Writing to us, he remarks “I’m fascinated by how we recreate childhood experiences in hopes of finding different outcomes. This tendency has shaped my adult life, and the lives of many people I love. What would happen if we could go back and undo the childhood tragedies that have shaped our adult selves? Would things be different? Would we be better, happier, more functional people?” Selfishly, I hope Seefried does not find a way to fix his past, because his collection of traumas has produced a gifted artist capable of creating one of my favorite shorts of the year.