This suspenseful, psychological thriller made on a modest budget is a treat
of originality in cinematic storytelling and will have you going from start
to finish. What's more, it employs underused and new talent on both sides of
the camera beginning with writer-director Hamlet Sarkissian making his film
debut. This ensemble may be working for scale but as filmmakers, they are a
class act. So, what makes it so special?
The Los Angeles-set story revolves around Jimmy (Adam Trese), an art
photographer, who takes a job with the LAPD as a police crime scene
documenter in order to make a living and to support his exotically beautiful
wife Maria (Ariadna Gil) in her endeavors as a ballet dancer. The trouble
with Jimmy, though, is that he can't control his aesthetic impulses, even
with corpses that met a violent death.
The first one to make note of his "feminine side" is Detective Flowers who
immediately detects Jimmy's emotional reaction to the victims and crudely
asks if he's homosexual. He and equally offensive partner Russo (V.J.
Foster) are only too glad to turn the crime scene over to Jimmy to complete
his recording of every angle.
But, this opportunity to be alone with the bodies produces a strange reaction
in Jimmy. At first it seems that it's the artist in him that intrigues him
so much about the subject matter. Then it becomes irrational, to the point
that he rearranges a gangland style massacre into a surreal last supper
While the mania progresses, he becomes uncommunicative with Maria, leading
her to get a job so that Jimmy, obviously disturbed in a way she can't
fathom, can find other employment. But, he's none too happy when he
discovers his rare, Spanish beauty dancing in a strip joint, a step that
throws the marriage into turmoil.
At the same time, detective Flowers is getting more and more criminally
crazed. When he invites Jimmy to join him and Russo in their crooked,
high-paying sideline activities, it's clear that bringing Jimmy into it is a
form of manipulation and control. But that's not the worst of it. The two
detectives are maniacal enough to make the worst hard-case in the infamous
Rampart Division scandal seem like scout leaders. The rope of control that
Flowers weaves around Jimmy gets tauter and ever more threatening as we
discover just how sociopathic the guy is.
Adam Trese ("Polish Wedding", "Palookaville") makes the concept of madness
brought about by an artist's exposure to death sympathetic, partly by
maintaining his core human vulnerability. Even as he snorts a line in order
to make a quick buck, he conveys the quality of an everyman getting in over his
head with people who have no moral restraints.
Ariadna Gil ("Belle Epoque"), a lady with the facial structure to make a
cover model die for, comes to American cinema from a long line of credits
abroad. Her classy beauty is outdone only by a straightforward honesty in
her portrayal. One senses that her emotional openness is the real person
using her true nature with measured skill. The effect is endearing.
But, in this obscure film, another discovery is Cully Fredricksen whose
psychotic cop comes close to that top we don't want go over. His bleak and
bony features are used as expressive props for a portrait of lunatic
dementia. Even his equally vile partner, played by another credible monster
of immorality, V.J. Foster, is in his thrall. The fiendishness this guy
gives off brings to mind the best of M. Emmet Walsh ("Blood Simple"), the
most demonic of Anthony Hopkins ("Hannibal"), perhaps with a little less
control over his psychopathia.
All of which attests to some astute casting from first-time director
Sarkissian who tells his story in a style that, while not necessarily new and
not without its risks, keeps it together with stimulating, sometimes
startling effect. He is closely abetted by the textural work of
cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos.
It's not only the camera that was obscura in the case of this film. It was
made in 2000 and took all this time to get slated for release. Our feeling
is that its worthiness is far ahead of the general level of the low
budget-festival winning competition and that Fish Eye Films should receive a
pat on the back for their savvy in recognizing a potential winner in the
All involved deserve more attention than they've had. Their film is clearly
one that set out to do something a little different and with the skill to
keep us locked into the drama and our concern for the characters. The
technical flash doesn't dilute those essentials and there's no overriding
self-indulgence. Their movie generates suspense and deserves attention for
that rarest of achievements, originality. An edgy thriller with its own take
that took me on a road I never travelled.
~~ Jules Brenner