'Welcome Home': Film Review

Wears out its welcome.

Aaron Paul and Emily Ratajkowski play a couple who find their relationship threatened by a mysterious stranger when they rent an Italian villa in George Ratliff's thriller.

The upcoming Broken Bad film can't come fast enough for Aaron Paul to stop being reduced to starring in B-movies like Welcome Home. This exploitation thriller, directed by George Ratliff (Joshua, Hell House), features the talented actor co-starring with Emily Ratajkowski (Gone Girl) as a couple who hope to fix their troubled relationship during a vacation at a rented Italian villa, only to fall victim to a nefarious stranger who watches their every move. Attempting to be a cautionary tale for the Airbnb era, the pic squanders its potential with ham-fisted execution.

Bryan (Paul) and Cassie (Ratajkowski) can't believe their luck when they arrive at the palatial estate in the Italian countryside that they're rented through the website "Welcome Home." Greeted by a bottle of wine and a solicitous note from the house's owner, they quickly settle in for their romantic getaway. They certainly need it, since Bryan, who's brought along an engagement ring, is still wrestling with his feelings of betrayal after having caught a drunken Cassie having sex with another man.

While skinny-dipping in the pool, Bryan gets freaked out by the garden gnomes facing them from a few feet away. Little does he realize that those inanimate figures aren't the only preying eyes. It turns out that the entire house's environs are under electronic surveillance, monitored by Federico (Riccardo Scamarcio), a handsome neighbor who they first meet when he stops to help Cassie when she injures herself while taking a run. Federico quickly insinuates himself into the couple's lives, all the while manipulating them in order to drive them apart.

That we find all this out fairly early in the proceedings robs Welcome Home of much of its suspense. For long stretches, the film turns into a tedious relationship drama, with neither the unmemorable performances nor David Levinson's pedestrian screenplay able to elevate the proceedings into anything interesting. Federico's elaborate machinations prove similarly tedious, and by the time the pic reaches its violence-laden final act, boredom has long since set in.

It doesn't help matters that the feature traffics in so many erotic thriller clichés. Ratajkowski is frequently shown in various states of undress, with her character taking so many showers (two in the first 30 minutes alone) that you worry less about her fate at the hands of a psychopathic voyeur than a possible case of germaphobia. And an elaborate set piece involving Federico pretending to be Bryan during a sexual liaison hinges on the absurd coincidence of Cassie donning a blindfold before he's in the room. Because what couple goes on vacation without one?

The internet era has created a whole new sub-genre of thrillers revolving around high-tech malfeasance (although, technically speaking, there's no reason that the central characters here couldn't have rented their vacation home through a real-estate broker or newspaper ad). To a degree, Welcome Home effectively taps into the innate fears and insecurities of trusting your well-being to total strangers. And its climactic sequence chillingly illustrates how the technology era has brought voyeurism to a whole new level. But the main lesson it imparts is to never trust a vacation rental deal that seems too good to be true.

Production companies: AMBI Group, Star Thrower Entertainment, Voltage Pictures
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
Cast: Aaron Paul, Emily Ratajkowski, Riccardo Scamarcio
Director: George Ratliff
Screenwriter: David Levinson
Producers: Tim White, Trevor White, Allan Mandelbaum, Nicholas Chartier, Dominic Rustam
Executive producers: Monika Bacardi, Andrea Iervolino, Rick Rickertsen, Mary Solomon
Director of photography: Shelly Johnson
Production designer: Susie Mancini
Editor: Brian Scofield
Composer: Bear McCreary
Costume designer: Natalie O'Brien
Casting: Robert Bigherati

Rated R, 98 minutes