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Cinema Signal: Not quite a green light but has elements of strong appeal for a limited audience. MOBILE version |
. "The Sound & the Shadow"

Writer-dorector Justin Paul Miller gives us an oddball odd-couple mystery in which a spunky, mouthy cutie named Ally, in unlikely disregard for personal safety, plants a fistful of dough (as in money) in reclusive landlord Harold's hands as rent to occupy his studio (garage) apartment. Despite all his rules and personal idiosyncracies, she's determined and resiliant enough to turn his hesitancies positive and complaints into virtues, mostly ignoring the rules she doesn't like, such as never entering the house through the front door.

Harry's home is filled with audio equipment. As a sound engineer, he makes a skimpy living by fixing broken equipment to sell online. But, income aside, his hermitic existence is mostly filled by listening in on neighborhood sounds with microphones planted all around his little castle. Conversations, arguments, whispers, animals, car doors -- all are subject to his awareness.

Outside this strange relationship (which only an actress like Wiles could pull off without losing all plausability -- we see Ally working on her bike at a local bycyle shop owned by Kyle (Alex Anfanger) who's attraction to her is poorly disguised by his shaky friendship act. But when they're not arguing, he gives her a sounding board for her thoughts and adventures (with a dash of bawdy provocation) which she shines on with steady aplomb.

One night Harry picks up a suspicious sound which forms the basis of this 90-minute odd couple comedy drama. Pearl, a neighbor's little girl, has gone missing at just about the time Harold hears, or thinks he hears, the closing of two car doors. What this proves -- or doesn't prove -- we'll find out later. In the meanwhile, Ally is so cutely aggressive in insisting her way into the soundman's life that, clearly, she's shaking up his house of routines.

The Pearl episode takes on a sudden danger level with the unwelcomed intervention of the Detective (Rhomeyn Johnson) when he catches wind of Harry's theories of the case. Ally's upsetting freedom of expression is bad enough for the uptight eavesdropper, but a cop?!

When she puts pressure on him to come with her to follow a creepy suspect who has to be a kidnapper hiding the missing girl, Harry loses patience and tries to throw her out. Well, you never know how a man will react when you upset his obsession.

There's a certain off-pace factor here, too, but Miller is using the clash of personalities to get at the reasons people act the way they do. That, it turns out, might be too ambitious to pay off this mystery with its share of clues and red herrings. and an underconceived plotline that doesn't quite pay off as big as one might wish it had but the suspense is a bit low wattage.

Despite a boatload of what could be considered flaws, his low-budget film wins on a lot of counts, such as casting actors perfectly tailored to the quirks of his script. Or, was it the other way around... writing a script for these particular actors? Either way, there's considerable talent here, if not yet fully realized or taken advantage of.

One of the talents on exhibit here would be Michael Dwyer's ("Nine To Ninety") consistent natural-light photography. He gave the film production values you don't often see in a film on a half-a-million buck budget. Expect more from him and all aboard.

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                                                                              ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Mary Kate Wiles is Ally. Not really inclined to play peek-a-boo.

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