Michael Tully: Don’t Leave Home is a melancholy film with a surreal twist


Michael Tully’s pensive eye is one of the highlights of this quiet, yet immersive, thriller about Irish urban legends and the conceit of artistry.

Michael Tully immediately captures the mournful atmosphere of Don’t Leave Home within the first ten minutes of the film. Framed by vintage, granular camera-work, 1986 in Northern Ireland appears as an idyllic countryside. A young Alistair Burke (Bobby Roddy) paints a portrait of Siobhan Callahan (Alisha Weir). The next day, Siobhan vanishes, seemingly into thin air. All traces of her gone, including the watercolor version in the painting on the mantle.

Father Alistair (now played by Lalor Roddy in his later years) becomes a mythic figure. He is the sole lead to the still unsolved mystery of Siobhan’s disappearance, a case that is no closer to being solved decades later. As such, he has withdrawn from public to live out his days in self-imposed exile with only his disciple, Shelley (Helena Bereen) to keep him company.

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Meanwhile, Melanie Thomas (Anna Margaret Hollyman), an artist struggling to stay afloat in the pretension of the art world, has found her muse in Irish urban legends. She creates a diorama modeled after the now infamous portrait of Siobhan and her work draws the attention of Alastair Burke himself.  Thomas is beckoned to his home to commission a new piece of art tailor-made for him alone. And even though the very title of this film is “Don’t Leave Home“, of course, Melanie does just that.

It is in Melanie’s arrival to the Burke estate where Don’t Leave Home loses some of its steam. After a compelling beginning marked by a stunning opening sequence, we chug along at glacial pace for too long in the middle. We’re meant to understand who Alastair is to set up the arc of his character, and Roddy excels at making him appear compassionate. But little else occurs beyond tepid conversation.

Helena Bereen as Shelley in Don’t Leave Home (2019) — Courtesy of Shudder PR

Helena Bereen’s controlling and overbearing Shelly steals the scene more often than not. Her conniving nature is transparent early on and she provides a great deal of the sense of dread you feel beginning to build the moment Melanie arrives.

However, when the film reaches its climax the final act is as riveting as it is delightfully absurd. We learn about the ritualistic endeavor that decided Siobhan’s fate before and Melanie’s fate in the presence. A scene that shares traits with Rosemary’s Baby and Get Out. The director, Michael Tully, is so meticulous with each framing device and shot, he creates a frenetic, drunken distortion of pompous men in powdered wigs watching an act of sadism. The scene is a commentary on wealth and status, reveling in high art involving the suffering of other human’s to support one’s misguided sense of superiority. It’s horrifying in its Lynchian influences and in its message.

If only Don’t Leave Home was as interested in giving us answers as it is in evoking emotions. Tully is clearly skilled at orchestrating moments of resonance, but Don’t Leave Home leaves far too many lingering questions to leave the viewer satisfied. Although the final line of dialogue is the perfect end note and a gut-punch all in its own right.

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I enjoy watching horror films that dare to test the limits of the genre and reach beyond audience expectations to test and challenge its viewers. Like The Witch, It Comes at Night, Hereditary, and other unconventional genre-fare, Don’t Leave Home has been critically maligned by a majority of the general public (at least those that were able to see it). But I think there is something worthwhile here even if it never meets its full potential.

Certainly Michael Tully deserves praise for daring to take a risk.

Don’t Leave Home is now streaming exclusively on Shudder.

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