A small-scale psycho-drama with possible ghostly elements, this has an intense lead performance from Jason Alan Smith – one of those handsome guy actors who works a lot (Big Bad Wolf, Before I Wake, Meeting Evil) but rarely gets a showcase this strong – and an air of fractured weirdness going for it.
We meet Diane Fay (Carlee Avers) doing a David Lynch-style nightclub chanteuse act, then limping veteran Steve (Smith) wakes up to find the woman dead in his back yard, artfully propped up against a pile of bricks but arranged like a necro pin-up in pristine white underwear with a stab-wound in her chest. Creepily, Steve takes a photo of the corpse on his phone before calling the police – later, he admits that he’s seem so much ugly death in combat that he was bewitched by a corpse who was also ‘the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen’. Diane was stabbed with Steve’s screwdriver, but turns out to have died of a barbiturate overdose first … and the cops (Margaret Rose Champagne of the Bikini Bloodbath franchise, Dick Boland) keep coming back to Steve as a prime suspect, though no connection seems to exist between the victim and him, and neighbourhood assholes start giving him a harder time than usual until he sees them off with unarmed combat moves.
It emerges that Steve’s real problem abou the case is a bout of amnesia – he seems genuinely not to remember the month or so before he found the corpse, and is visited by apparitions of the dead woman, who talks as if they do have history. Diane’s grieving husband (Doug Timpos) shows up, and clouds the mystery even further … and the pieces begin to fall in place in flashbacks, with pre-death Diane, who had frustrated hopes of Broadway stardom, emerging as a stranger figure. Helpfully, a cop googles ‘Fay’ and comes up with the definition of a seductive female trickster spirit, while Steve does the same with ‘ghost’ as he tries to get his head round what the apparition really is to him.
Writer-director Michael Mongillo, who made something called Being Michael Madsen which sounds terrific, has a knack for pithy, tough dialogue – when the cops ride Steve for having a cushy life thanks to owning his own home and being on a government disability cheque, he bites back with ‘yeah, and all it cost me is my parents’ lives and my ability to run’. The key to the mystery is dropped early, but it takes a while to come into focus – and, in the end, the specifics of how Diane died and in what form she’s haunting Steve are less important than the nuanced, dissociated ordinary nightmarishness of the lead characters’ lives. Shot in New Britain, Connecticut, it has an interesting washed-out small town look. This is one you’ll think about afterwards, though that also means it’s deceptively quiet for much of its running time. Mongillo is obviously working on limited resources, but pushes the boat out for a few quality elements – notably a score with excellent original songs.