RETURN TO PAST
Fans of Brian De Palma’s kinetic thrillers of the 1970s and the ’80s will sit up during the opening sequence of the new, 10-episode Amazon Prime show Homecoming. Accompanying a long tracking shot—so characteristic of De Palma’s work—is Pino Donaggio’s lush music score from Dressed
to Kill (1980). Like the opening scene of that film, the camera looks around a room before moving in towards the lined face of the heroine--in this case, Heidi Bergman (Julia Roberts), who works as a counsellor for a company that helps disoriented soldiers acclimatise to the ‘normal’ world.
There will be other De Palma references
in subsequent episodes: music from Body Double and Carrie (plus a role for Sissy Spacek, who played the lead in the latter), split screens, slow zooms and other sorts of playfulness with framing. And a very deadpan investigator delightfully played by Shea Whigham—so pokerfaced that in some of his scenes, you might be unsure if he is acting at all.
Homecoming also has its distinctive way of building a sense of claustrophobia and dread, as it moves between the past (2018) and a present day (2022), where Heidi, having long left her job, is trying to figure out exactly what had happened
at the Homecoming centre and why there are so many gaps in her memory. The show does a fine job of capturing the unease of the soldiers— notably Walter (Stephan James), who seems warmly self-aware on the surface, but may have buried memories that need to be plumbed—as well as Heidi’s increasing bewilderment. Aerial shots show us interiors with geometric arrangement of furniture, adding to our sense of the characters as dolls trapped inside a labyrinthine jigsaw puzzle. There are unsettling scenes involving Heidi’s boss Colin (Bobby Cannavale), who always seems to be on the phone, networking even as he runs the facility from behind the scenes. What does it all add up to, though? No spoilers here except to say that if you’re a seasoned viewer or a reader of sci-fi/dystopia, this is familiar terrain. While you’re watching Homecoming, episode by episode, you can’t fault the performances, the creation of mood, the touches of whimsical dark humour and the affectionate harking back to the paranoia-thriller aesthetic of the 1970s.
But if you were hoping for an earth-shattering twist, you might end up feeling that this thriller is less than the sum of its parts.