The Domestic Brings A Unique Spin To Common Story [Screamfest]

The Domestic still of couple Tumi (Tumisho Masha) and Kat (Thuli Thabethe) talking to Blessing (Amanda Du-Pont)

The Domestic gives a mix between the typical horror fare like The Hand That Rocks The Cradle meets The Craft.

The Domestic, written and directed by Bradley Katzen, that played at Screamfest, deals with a supernatural conflict when ancestral beliefs and traditions clash with Eurocentric ideas. Kat (Thuli Thabethe) and her husband, Tumi (Tumisho Masha), are a wealthy South African couple. Due to their rigorous work schedules, their hired domestic help, Martha, took care of the household. When she dies, they hire Blessing (Amanda Du-Pont), Martha’s daughter, to fill her mother’s role. But Blessing is not Martha; after her arrival, strange occurrences begin to wreak havoc on the couple. The Domestic is a slow-building horror surrounding supernatural forces, rich people’s fear of their domestic help, and the struggle to accept oneself.

The film starts with Kat narrating, talking about how the ancestors select people, giving them the “calling,” a spiritual gift that allows them to help those in need. Kat has the calling but rejects it, embracing Christianity, despite seeing ancestral spirits from time to time. Kat believes her issue is a mental disorder and relies on prescription medication to curb what she sees. Her husband, Tumi, supports her decision, and though this alienates Kat’s mom, who is a believer, Tumi and Kat are content. 

Characters In The Domestic Are People, Not All Good Or All Bad

The Domestic cover art.
The Domestic cover art. Screamfest.

Kat and Tumi are not great people, as they have the condescending air that wealthy people exude. Despite their assertions that Martha was part of the family, they miss her funeral, arriving just as it ends. Tumi’s complaint about rush hour traffic when they leave, while Kat complains about her shoes, shows selfishness that disregards anyone who is not them. They hire Blessing despite their initial discomfort when Blessing knows and challenges Kat’s decision to reject the calling. 

You feel sympathy for Kat and Tumi but also frustration that they ignore their initial reservations about Blessing. Kat’s flashbacks show her issue with the calling. Blessing is the recipient of Kat’s anger because Blessing practices those traditions Kat rejected in Kat’s home. Still, Kat has a right to choose what goes on in her home.Classism is also on display in The Domestic

Wealthy People And Lightskin Drama

The Domestic still of Tumi (Tumisho Masha), Kat (Thuli Thabethe) talking to Blessing (Amanda Du-Pont).
The Domestic still of Tumi (Tumisho Masha), Kat (Thuli Thabethe) and Blessing (Amanda Du-Pont). Courtesy of Screamfest.

Kat and Tumi insult Blessing to their guests at dinner, even as Blessing comes in and out of the room. Kat even exaggerates to her guests that Blessing almost burned the house down when she burned a smudge stick. The Domestic is more than a supernatural horror film, showing the attitudes of the wealthy towards the people they hire. The phrase “like family” the rich and white people espouse rarely applies to how they treat the people they employ. Words without action are meaningless. 

Kat and Tumi have dark skin, while Blessing is light-skinned. The fact that the villain is lightskin works because often lightskin women are problematic and colorist. In The Domestic, Blessing is a real problem. Yet the film does not fall into the trope of the husband having sex with the woman destroying their lives. I gritted my teeth waiting for it but it never happened. Phew!

Terrific Lead Performances

The Domestic still of a woman screaming.
The Domestic. Courtesy of Screamfest.

The acting by Thule Thabethe and Amanda Du-Pont is incredible. When the focus of a film is conflict between two people, primarily when the antagonist represents something else for the protagonist, such as here, a movie can only be as good as the two casts in those roles. Both deliver; Thule, even with her classist character, brings humanity to the role as she struggles with her past and accepting herself. Amanda Du-Pont is terrifying. As the danger rises, each moment she appears leaves you wondering about her end game and how far she is willing to go. 

The Domestic gives a mix between the typical horror fare like The Hand That Rocks The Cradle meets The Craft. It takes you into an unpredictable path filled with the paranormal and as viewers you are unsure of Blessing’s purpose, but chilled by her calmness as Kat’s world implodes. The viewer lets audiences know The Calling is real, and builds terror outside of the is-it-or-isn’t-it world. I am not sure how authentic and respectful the movie is to the traditions. Still, The Domestic gives a uniquely-styled horror with supernatural elements creating a slow-burning tense-filled atmosphere. The horror is more than Blessing; it is wasted years hiding from yourself. 

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