Nancy, Please


Nancy is all smoke and mirrors.

Nancy is all smoke and mirrors.

(2012) Drama (Small Coup) Will Rogers, Eleonore Hendricks, Rebecca Lawrence, Santino Fontana, Novella Nelson, Wally Dunn, Timothy Chastain, Ellis Cahill, Steph Holmbo, Claire Molloy, Elizabeth Ansell, Peter Coleman, Alice Kemelberg, Alex Robles, Alexis Rose, Hilary Shar, Matthew Taylor. Directed by Andrew Semans   

 Florida Film Festival 2013

It doesn’t take much to annoy most of us. Petty little cruelties can prey on our minds. Most of the time we just brush it off and simply classify the perpetrator as a jerk and move on. Once in awhile however something just captures our brains and we get obsessed by the injustice, determined to exact our measure of triumph out of a situation in which we feel wronged.

Paul (Rogers) is a doctoral candidate at Yale, working on a thesis that follows the description of the English political process described by Charles Dickens in his classic novel Little Dorrit. To that end he has his own hardcover in which he has written notes covering the subject.

Life is actually pretty good for Paul. He’s just moved in with his beautiful girlfriend Jen (Lawrence) who is supporting him while he works on his thesis, which he is finally ready to start writing. However as he’s unpacking, he discovers to his chagrin that the crucial copy of the book has been left behind at his old apartment. Therefore he calls his old roommate Nancy (Hendricks) to see if he can drop by and pick up the book.

Days go by and he hears nothing. He is beginning to get frantic. His best friend Charlie (Fontana), a fellow doctoral candidate, urges him to simply drive over to his apartment and knock on the door. s they do, Paul is certain he glimpses Nancy inside but she doesn’t answer the door. The door turns out to be unlocked but Paul feels awkward about going in so he continues to wait.

The cat and mouse game between Paul and Nancy continues, escalating. Nancy does return his call a couple of times but always when Paul is unavailable. Paul is becoming obsessed, certain that Nancy has some sort of vendetta against him. Jen is becoming irritated because Paul is neglecting to do things around their house that he’d promised to do, forcing Jen who is supporting them to have to take care of things that Paul has more time to deal with.

However Paul is too busy dealing with Nancy to really focus on anything else. His faculty advisor, Dr. Bannister (Nelson) is growing impatient; it has been two years since Paul began his doctoral work and he has shown little or no movement in getting his thesis done. She is threatening to have him removed from the program. Paul’s stress is turning to desperation; he needs that book. So finally after a good deal of prodding from both Charlie and Jen, he decides to go in using a spare key Jen had when she used to come by the apartment to visit him and just get the book himself. This plan turns out to be disastrous.

Humiliated and physically injured, Paul’s paranoia about Nancy is reaching the boiling point. Jen, seeing that things have gone far out of control, finally takes matters into her own hands and in her mind (and in any other reasonable person’s mind) resolves the situation. But in Paul’s mind things are far from over…

This isn’t an easy film to sit through. I think that this is best described as a horror film that is going on only in the lead character’s mind. The innovative thing here is that it’s not actually a horror movie to anyone but Paul. Paul sees Nancy as some sort of cruel monster and she’s a vindictive bitch to be sure but Paul is about as passive a character as you’re likely to meet. He is so aggravating that Da Queen, not normally given to such hyperbole, proclaimed him the biggest pussy in the history of movies. She may have a point.

But so many male indie film leads could be described using that pejorative and you wouldn’t be far wrong and I think that part of the filmmaker’s intent is to satirize the somewhat cliché indie  saw of a passive male lead whose life is resolved either by a strong female presence or through some sort of external motivation. As someone who has seen his life transformed by the love of a good woman, I can’t argue that a man can’t find self-confidence and an improved sense of self-worth through that process. I can say though that it is used far too often in indie films of late.

The focus of the movie is on the antagonists Nancy and Paul and somewhat refreshingly it is more vital for those two to have chemistry than for Paul and Jen to have it and in fact that is the case. Hendricks gives a strong performance in a role that is pretty thankless; Nancy really doesn’t have any reason not to give Paul the book other than to inflict punishment for some sort of transgression – I assume it’s because he had the gall to move out on her. Given her actions it’s not surprising that he’d want to.

Even more thankless is the role of Paul. He’s the nominal “hero” of the piece but he’s far from heroic. In fact, the danger here is that Rogers might be too good in the role – he certainly makes Paul an unlikable lead, to the point where Da Queen really didn’t like this movie once. While my wife and I have nearly identical taste in movies, this is one instance where we disagreed somewhat significantly. I liked the movie precisely for the reason that she didn’t – because the filmmakers have the courage to present a lot of unlikable people in a situation that could easily be resolved but isn’t. Real life is often that way.

Maybe I can see a little bit of myself in Paul. I certainly am the sort who avoids conflicts whenever possible and I tend to let life walk all over me. My ambitions tend to be overridden by my shyness and I tend to need a bit of nagging to get moving on things I know have to get done. However I’m nowhere near as bad as Paul is in that regard – I can self-motivate and even if I do procrastinate on some things they do get done in a timely manner, just not in an instantaneous manner most of the time.

Personal identification aside, I can heartily recommend this movie because it is different and the filmmakers are showing how a simple situation can get complicated in a hurry. I admit that the movie has grown more on me than it did make an immediate positive impression and that may well be the case for you, but if you want to try something outside of the usual kind of movie this is a good place to start.

REASONS TO GO: Love the juxtaposition between the paranoid fantasy going on in Paul’s mind and the mundane reality.

REASONS TO STAY: Possibly one of the most frustratingly passive lead characters ever.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s some brief violence, adult situations, a bit of sexuality and a modicum of expletives.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While the film is set in New Haven, it was mostly filmed in Brooklyn and other New York City locations.

CRITICAL MASS: There have been no reviews published for the film for either Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Dark Matter

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: Be Good and more 2013 Florida Film Festival coverage

Nature’s Grave (Long Weekend)


Nature's Grave (Long Weekend)
Jim Caviezel, this time with a legitimate reason to take off his shirt.

 

 (Arclight) Jim Caviezel, Claudia Karvan. Directed by Jamie Blanks

 

The old saying goes “Don’t fool with Mother Nature” with the implied “because she’s a real bitch who will carve out your innards if you do” as well. More to the point that like any mother, Mother Nature will fight back if you disrespect her long enough.

 

Peter (Caviezel) and Carla (Karvan) is a couple who have been married too long. The love has long since disappeared and their relationship has disintegrated into a series of battles that nobody really wins. They decide – well, at least Peter did – that to make a last-ditch attempt to save their marriage they should take a vacation.

 

That would normally be a good idea, but even that turns out badly. You see, whereas Carla’s idea of a vacation is five-star hotels, massages and lush resorts, Peter prefers a tent, a secluded bit of beach and a gun. A gun which he fires in the general direction of his wife as a joke when they first arrive at the beach…at least, they think it’s the beach. The truth is that Peter got hopelessly lost on his way there and they really have no idea where they are.

 

At first it seems idyllic. Not far from the beach, a secluded forest with plenty of wildlife for shooting and only a few neighbors far away. However, things are rapidly deteriorating between Carla and Peter. It’s not a case of one being a jerk and the other a martyr…they’re both pretty much jerks. Peter is an alpha male whose testosterone drives him to do stupid, moronic things. Carla is a world-class nag and an all-Aussie bitch.

 

There are some other troubling things. One of Peter’s mates and his girlfriend was supposed to be meeting them, but they never showed. There are strange sounds in the night. Animals, plants and insects are acting unusually aggressive. A chicken rots in a cooler without explanation.

 

In the meantime, Peter and Carla act recklessly and thoughtlessly, Carla running over a kangaroo in the night, Peter shooting anything that moves (and several things that don’t). One wonders when the tipping point will be reached.

 

This is a remake of a 1978 eco-thriller called Long Weekend (which was the title this was released under in Australia where it was made) directed by the late Colin Eggleston. Although I never saw the original, I’m led to understand the remake is fairly faithful to it.

 

Caviezel is an actor I’ve always been fond of although he has been less visible on the big screen as of late. He is versatile enough to play the heavy (as he has in several movies) as well as the divine (as he did in The Passion of the Christ) and here, he plays a bit in between. Peter is a macho asshole (there’s really no other way to say it) but he isn’t rotten through and through; occasionally a bit of softness shows through.

 

I like the way the marriage between Carla and Peter is portrayed here. The two commit acts of petty cruelty in a slow dance of one-upsmanship whilst twisting the knife. As the song says, there’s a thin line between love and hate and that line is blurring here. Their pain has become so ingrained in them that every move is a series of reactions and counter-reactions to the slights, perceived and otherwise, delivered by the other. In that sense this is as fascinating a portrayal of a marriage in its death throes as any I’ve ever seen.

 

However, this is ostensibly a horror movie and while there are a few shocks, quite frankly this is one of those less-is-more type of horror movies that is more of a character study in which the scares come from left field. Veteran gorehounds will probably cringe while watching this, but it is better approached as a psychological thriller despite the supernatural aspect.

 

Because the lead characters are so cruel to one another, it’s very difficult to really root for them even when things are really going to hell in a handcart. After all, this is the bed they made, so lying in it comes with the territory. That said, it should be noted that the Aussies are often underrated when it comes to delivering delicious horror movies; quite a few good shock flicks have come from Down Under over the past thirty years, and some of them are as enviably good as any to come out of Japan, Korea, Spain, England or of course the U.S. This might be more than a little difficult to locate but it’s well worth the effort; while it doesn’t set any genres on fire, the train wreck aspect of watching the relationship deteriorate is equally a horror to the gory scenes of nature’s devastations.

 

WHY RENT THIS: Realistic portrait of a marriage that has completely come apart. It’s the relationship between Peter and Carla that make this movie.

 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Maybe a little too subtle for the average horror film. Some might think Caviezel spends way too much time without his shirt on. There is a good deal of marital ugliness that might hit a little too close to home.

 

FAMILY VALUES: There are some images that are definitely not for the squeamish, a few big scares, lots of rough language and some drinking and drug use.  

 

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Screenwriter Everett De Roche also penned the 1978 original.  

 

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.  

 

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Day 3 of Six Days of Darkness.