Luke Harding (James Clayton), a seedy private investigator who shambles from one dead-end gig to another, accepts a commission from Mr Fairweather (Matt Frewer), a bizarre wrestling impresario, to deliver a package … as is the way of jobs like this in low-rent noirs, the deal goes south in a bloody shoot-out, and Luke winds up with the package – which has saved his life by stopping a bullet – and is compelled to open it. Discovering a manuscrupt diary kept by a doomed 19th century explorer, which prompts flashbacks to the uncovering of an ancient evil in the Americas, he is further compelled to read the thing – despite its constant seepage of apparently hallucinogenic ink residue.
As he ploughs through the thick and sticky pages, he has phone conversations with Fairweather – though his employer’s head has been torn away by a shotgun blast in an ‘80s-look splatter effect – and is spied on by a double act of eccentric goons (Dan Payne, Costas Mandylor) working for Fairweather’s sinister rival Lamont (a typecastWilliam B. Davis). Reading the diary causes memory lapses, prophetic visions – Luke spends some time communicating with the book’s next reader, a surgeon (Blaine Anderson) – and other disorienting mental phenomena which the film conveys dizzyingly well. As if his life weren’t complicated enough, Luke suddenly has to share his grimy motel apartment with his estranged lesbian daughter Angelina (Taylor Hickson), whom he tries to protect from the baleful influence of the book … which spreads throughout the apartment complex, resulting in subplots of murder and mayhem. Luke is also haunted by a fanged, bug-eyed waif who might be his transformed daughter.
Writer-director Rusty Nixon features tentacles to evoke the world of H.P. Lovecraft and also draws on some of the horror-noir aspects of early Clive Barker, but works hard to establish a distinctive identity for this mind-scrambling little horror film … which deliberately takes a jigsaw puzzle approach to plotting by tipping all the pieces in a pile so the audience has to sort them out along with the protagonist. There are unsettling moments as Luke scrolls back through his cameraphone-recorded diary to find he has made the same opening remarks many times … or fetches a glass of water to return to a desk covered with glasses he has filled, fetched and forgotten about while under the spell of the fatal pages. The awkward, developing relationship between father and daughter gives the film an emotional thread that makes for more involvement in what might otherwise have been an exercise in genre cool – Luke is initially a human wreck, but he makes an effort to shape up for his sweet, troubled daughter – almost starting a mature relationship with his professional cleaner neighbour (Elysia Rotaru), even as the forces of darkness are gathering to threaten his mind, body and soul and those of everyone in the area.