A low-key but properly unsettling drama – seesawing between psychological thriller and supernatural horror film, with something of the feel of mindwarps like Lost Highway or Nocturnal Animals, built around an unusually complicated, compelling central character.
Billy Curtis (Gabe Fazio), plainly wound up too tight, and his girlfriend Lisa (Augie Duke), perhaps getting near the end of her patience, drive out of the city to spend a weekend at The Doctor’s Inn, a hostelry on an island resort where Billy spent holidays in childhood – though he has gaps in his memory, and there are lingering mysteries about his absent parents. At the hotel, the guests are wrongfooted by an oddly prissy, slightly aggressive manager (Kenneth McGregor) and Billy has a lost time experience while chatting with an intense writer (Peter Greene) in one of the rooms. Then, as Lisa takes a bath while sulking about the lack of WiFi, Billy finds a videocassette under the bed – a VHS left in a hotel room of course evokes the Ring cycle, but in a 2019 film almost suggests a timeslip – which he watches, only to see a home movie of a couple of thugs (Arial Aliaz, Terry O’Brian) hassling a driver on the road, then tracking the guy (Kevin Ebner) and his wife (Ashley Jordyn) down to the very hotel room Billy and Lisa are staying in, and invading to commit rape and murder. Upset, Billy insists on calling the police, but when Detective Mueller (Federico Castelluccio) turns up, the tape is missing from the drawer where Billy has stashed it – though the cop professionally doesn’t dismiss Billy out of hand as a nut.
A strength of Exit O – directed by E.B. Hughes, who co-scripted with Gregory Voigt – is that the troubled main character knows just how cracked he sounds but feels compelled to do the right thing by telling his story, even as it unravels. Everyone around Billy is ‘off’, including random folk like the tour guide of a local lighthouse (Daniel O’Shea), and plot strands suggest time folding in on itself – does that tape show a suppressed memory from Billy’s past, or a premonition of a cycle about to repeat now another couple are settled into Room 2, or is this some Vacancy-like torment porn set-up? It almost doesn’t matter which interpretation you take, since the point is in the jittery spiral of desperation and self-flagellation Billy undergoes on what ought to be a relaxing weekend away from his troubles.
Exit 0 offers slow-burn scares, but also weirdly funny situations with ominous pronouncements taken the wrong way (McGregor, especially, is creepily hilarious) in one long wind-up. Fazio and Duke, unfamiliar players, are both outstanding, and Billy and Lisa are a rare screen couple heading for the rocks who convince as people trying to stay together rather than tear each other apart … and there’s a surprising amount of tension in the way the leads often hold back from saying what you know they’re thinking.