Unsafe house

Unsafe house

By Michael Pickard
May 22, 2024


The writing team behind French thriller Homejacking join director Hervé Hadmar to outline how this six-part series keeps viewers off balance by revealing the true nature of the story through a variety of different perspectives.

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and nor should you judge French drama Homejacking based on its first episode.

The six-part series opens at a magnificent modern home nestled deep in the countryside, where married couple Isabelle (Marie Dompnier) and Richard (Yannick Choirat) are held hostage by an armed intruder. It appears to be a contained story with just three characters.

Events quickly turn sour for all involved, but that is not even half of the story – one that plays with viewers’ perception of perspective and the truth. It’s only by watching the subsequent instalments, which not only introduce more characters but also travel back and forth in time, that the events in episode one will be fully explained.

According to the creators, the tagline for the thriller could be: Simplicity is a lie.

“It’s a dangerous way of telling a story,” director Hervé Hadmar tells DQ. “We will have some people who watch episode one and think, ‘This is not for me.’ Too bad for them. I really think the more you watch the show, the more you love it and the more you are like, ‘Oh my god.’ You have to earn that.”

L-R: Emmanuelle Fageur, Tigran Rosine, Florent Meyer and Herve Hadmar at Series Mania

“It was only possible because the show was not very expensive, so we were free to go there [creatively], but we know it’s not a very marketable strategy,” adds co-creator Tigran Rosine. “People who go to the end will be rewarded.”

Rosine (Lupin) created the series with Florent Meyer (Blackspot), and they both wrote the scripts with Emmanuelle Fageur. Hadmar (Les témoins) directs all six episodes of the show, which is produced by Lincoln TV for French streamer OCS and distributed internationally by Beta Film. It debuted on OCS in April after its world premiere at French television festival Series Mania in March.

“It started with the two of us, with a small idea of the situation, a homejacking. And from that situation, we mixed it with another idea we had – which is a spoiler for the ending,” says Rosine, who isn’t giving anything away. “At the beginning, we wanted to look at a homejacking that was supposed to be a really clear situation. We said, ‘OK, what if we try to have many different looks at this situation? What can happen?’ The theme was how the look we have can change from different points of view. The show works on the surprise of the new point of view.”

“The question is, what is the truth? It’s about perceptions,” adds Hadmar. “Behind the look of something, there is another truth. Look closer.”

Their ideas surrounding the structure of the series then led the creative process, perhaps somewhat contrarily to the way television series are traditionally developed. Naturally, for a process likened to solving a Rubik’s cube, numerous questions arose.

On the surface, Homejacking appears to be a story about a couple and their captor…

“But when we found the verticality of the story and the background [of the story] – that in France people can be captured with facial recognition – we discovered we wanted to talk about that as we were working on the script,” Rosine says. “But we can’t afford to write many versions of a script, so our trick is to talk things through before writing them. We don’t write a word if we haven’t told the story, pitched the story, pitched the episode in detail to the producers. That way we are more specific when we write and there is less trash.”

Faguer came on board when Rosine and Meyer had the first script in hand, and the trio then worked together across the subsequent five episodes.

“We had an amazing idea of telling this story in this house, and it was amazing to work with them because I knew their work and I wanted to create this story with them,” Faguer says. “They wanted to see what I could bring to this story, because it’s also a story about a woman trapped in this house. We wanted to see what is behind the first appearance of this house and this couple – and this woman, in particular. It was very interesting to see the evolution of Isabelle, because she becomes the main character through the series.

“Isabelle is a character we don’t see a lot. I rarely see a character like her. She’s really unique, especially in a thriller, which is usually a male environment. That’s why the series is so interesting. She’s unique in the way she acts, the way she manages situations. She’s very special. I want people to see her. You can’t judge her or question her choices. That’s what makes her so interesting.”

“She is the greatest mystery in the show,” Hadmar adds.

…But viewers soon learn there is more than meets the eye thanks to the show’s multiple perspectives

“She’s making very difficult choices in the show,” says Rosine. “But she is never a victim. That’s why she’s interesting. The situation is complex, it’s hard and she constantly moves forward, but on a very thin line, so that when you look at her, you think, ‘What is she doing?’”

Other characters to appear in the series include Yasmin (Sofia Lesaffre), Bilal (Carl Malapa), Mohamed (Merwane Tajouiti) and Nassima (Mama Bouras) – and the house itself that takes centre stage in episode one.

After a broad search, the perfect location was found approximately 35 kilometres north of Paris, in an artist commune called Auvers-sur-Oise.

“We had to search for it because I wanted a house that could be a Rubik’s cube. When we found it, it was a miracle. All the furniture was there already. I said, ‘Don’t touch anything. This is the house.’ The woods were there, the rocks, everything except the tunnels,” Hadmar says, noting one of the secrets the house keeps in the series. “No movie had been shot in this house before, no TV shows, so we got it for the first time. We were very lucky to find this house.”

The director describes Homejacking as a fairytale. “It’s not real. It’s not about the real world,” he says. Behind the camera, he was inspired by domestic thrillers such as David Fincher’s Gone Girl and Jordan Peele’s Get Out, as well as films from Alfred Hitchcock and Pedro Almodovar.

But his influence on the series wasn’t restricted to the camerawork: Hadmar was also responsible for the music, which adds a haunting quality to the events that play out. Homejacking also marks the first TV series he has directed that he didn’t also write.

The production team managed to find the perfect house in which to tell the story

“I’ve saved two years of my life [by not writing it],” he jokes. “I read it and everything was there. I thought, ‘This is new. This is for me.’ It was great.”

But while Hadmar needed little convincing, the biggest challenge facing the creative team was finding a broadcast partner that felt the same way. Eventually, OCS came on to back the show.

“It’s a strange fairytale, and it’s not where the usual broadcasters want to go,” Rosine admits. “That was the first challenge. Then we had to find a good director. If you see the whole show, there’s a very big challenge for the director in this story, and the directors we met before Hervé were all afraid. When we met Herve, he was excited, and we said, ‘OK.’ After that, we had great admiration for his work, so we were the luckiest people on earth that day.”

“I was crazy enough to say, ‘OK.’ I needed the money,” Hadmar says. “But for me, it’s a game. This show is a game and you are in the game as a viewer. Sometimes when you play chess, it is a pleasure to lose the game because you haven’t seen anything coming; you haven’t seen this great move. It’s like that.”

That’s the reward of Homejacking, Rosine says. Viewers might think they know what the story is about but will come to realise it is about something entirely different.

“The show is about point of view and what you think you know about things or people,” he says. “As a viewer, you can judge the characters. Then at the end of the show, you can judge yourself for the thoughts you had watching the episodes.”

“In the end,” Fageur adds, “the viewer realises they have been played.”

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