This article was originally published on Film Threat (November 12, 2018).
Homecoming is a slow-burning suspenseful conspiracy thriller. Unlike most dramas, each episode is only 30 minutes long and leaves you abruptly hanging in the midst of a beguiling moment. The moment you expect a breakthrough, the narrative oddly stops, and a new episode begins, presenting the next set of suspicious problems. If you hang in there for the first few foundational episodes, you will be rewarded with more interesting circumstances and mysteries through the rest of the season.
Homecoming is an experimental program and facility developed by a company called Geist. Slimeball Colin Belfast (Bobby Cannavale) is trying to work his way up the corporate ladder and really needs this venture to succeed. He hires Heidi Bergman (Julia Roberts), a social worker who sincerely wants to help returning veterans with emotional and psychological issues like PTSD, get their lives back on track. Colin is an overbearing, egotistical, and glib boss who demeans Heidi’s concerns at every turn. Heidi tries to do right by her patients, one of whom she is particularly fond of.
“…a social worker who sincerely wants to help returning veterans with emotional and psychological issues like PTSD, get their lives back on track.”
Walter Cruz (Stephan James) is a stand-up guy and respected soldier. We see him remain loyal to the friends he served with and learn about the difficulties he faced, including the loss of brothers in arms. Throughout the series, Walter and Heidi develop a very sweet rapport. They confide in each other, daydream about their future, and play pranks to pass the time. All we know is their camaraderie comes to an end when they both leave Homecoming on the same day: May 15, 2018.
This date splits the show’s narrative in two. We see the six-weeks slowly leading up to this mysterious and fateful day at Homecoming. Then, there is a timeline that takes place four years later, when Thomas Carrasco (Shea Whigham) from the Department of Defense opens an investigation and follows up on a claim filed against the program which has since dissembled. As he tracks down the individuals involved, shocking truths gradually unravel. Homecoming is not the kind of service that it is advertised to be.
“…an interesting premise…but it isn’t awe-inspiringly original.”
Sam Esmail sets the Hitchcockian tone from the start. His visual style evokes iconic scenes similar to ones depicted in Vertigo, Spellbound and the like. The eerie soundtrack is shrill, unnerving, and persistent. Each ominously escalating note rings in your ears, although the coinciding images on screen seem mundane and unassuming. Esmail’s visual aesthetic and framing indicates different places in time when the narrative is split. The screen shrinks into a narrow vertical view, reflecting the limited scope of Heidi’s post-Homecoming knowledge. When the truth is realized, Heidi’s future perspective broadens to match that of the past, and the story moves forward to see what has become of her friend Walter.
Homecoming is a good show full of great performances, but it sadly does not live up to the hype. I expected something extraordinarily engaging and thought I’d feel compelled to finish the series in one sitting. Disappointingly, that was not the case. I appreciate Esmail’s efforts to conjure the essence of Hitchcock, but it felt a little forced. Instead of feeling wowed, I was annoyed by the excessive attempts to make me nervous. Maybe that is because the storyline didn’t sink in its hooks deep enough. It is an interesting premise that calls out corporations and politics for putting profit above humanity, but it isn’t awe-inspiringly original. The payoff is not as mind-blowing or moving as I hoped it to be.
Homecoming (2018) Created by Micah Bloomberg, Eli Horowitz, Sam Esmail. Directed by Sam Esmail. Written by Micah Bloomberg, Eli Horowitz, Sam Esmail, Cami Delavigne, Eric Simonson, David Wiener. Starring Julia Roberts, Bobby Cannavale, Stephan James, Shea Whigham, Alex Karpovsky, Sissy Spacek, Dermot Mulroney, Marianne Jean-Baptiste.
7.5 out of 10 stars