Kitchen Privileges

“Kitchen Privileges (aka ‘Housebound’),” written and directed by Mari Kornhauser, is quite a mixed bag of a movie; on one side, you have a fairly well done drama about a woman recovering from a brutal rape. On the other side, you have a mishandled horror film that fails where it succeeds.

Confused yet? Back to the beginning.

Marie (Katharina Wressnig) has become an agoraphobic after being raped in an elevator about a year before the film begins.  She has adjusted her entire life to staying indoors, to the frustration and concern of her friends and her boyfriend. To supplement her income (and to help her feel safe), she takes in a tenant, Tom (Peter Sarsgaard), a cook on an oil rig who mostly comes and goes.

After a failed attempt at ‘outside’ leads her to a panic attack, Tom helps her through it, and the two of them begin the process of healing her, but like usual, not is all what it seems with this guy. He’s intensely private, he even locks the kitchen door when he’s cooking, and Marie is always hearing weird noises from behind his door. Could he be the mysterious freeway killer who dumps dismembered bodies before moving on to his next victim?

It sounds lame, and it does take a little time to get interested in these characters, but it does happen, thanks to the performances of Wressnig and Sarsgaard. If the movie had just been a psychological drama/horror film with just those two, I suspect I would have liked it more. However, there a number of bit players (most notably Marie’s odious sister Mignon, played by Angeline Ball) that show up to just ruin all the fun.  

(We’re moving in to spoiler territory after the jump; don’t click if you want to be surprised.)

After Minion mysteriously disappears, Marie’s paranoia and fear ratchet out of control, and she seriously begins suspecting that Tom is a serial killer, even going so far as giving his name to the police. It’s a decent twist, but what really killed this film for me is that it’s an unbelievable twist.

While watching the film, I firmly believed that Tom was the guy, that Marie was right to suspect him, and that her sister would prove to be the freeway killer’s third victim. Alright, it didn’t go down that way, but the reasons it didn’t strain credulity to the breaking point; Marie has paralyzing fears of the outside world, but why does she suddenly start hallucinating? Her sister abruptly leaves the house, goes on a Caribbean cruise with her boyfriend, but forgets to take her purse, claiming she forget where she left it? I may think Mignon is one of the worst written female characters this side of Kate Austen, but no woman is that flaky.

I get that Marie’s mistrust is left over from her traumatic rape, but the movie goes out of its way to stack the deck against her fragile brain that when it’s revealed that she’s just nuts, it’s thoroughly unbelievable.

The ending is clever, (yeah, he was a nice guy all along you stupid woman), but it’s a snide cleverness that at the end of the day, makes no sense. Unreliable narrators can be pretty awesome, but here, it’s a device meant to trip audience members up, and “Kitchen Privileges” is a perfect example of why I hate twist endings on principal (David Croenenberg’s “Spider” is an example of a twist ending, and an unreliable narrator, done with expert execution).

Strong performances can’t save a film from a spectacular third-act flameout. The curse of the twist ending strikes again!

“Kitchen Privileges” or “Housebound” (2000)

Written and directed by Mari Kornhauser

Starring: Katharina Wressnig (Marie)

Peter Sarsgaard (Tom)

Angeline Ball (Mignon)