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24 Exposures
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by Jay Seaver

"Micro-budget indie dramas and murder mysteries are tricky things to mix."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2013 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: How prolific is independent filmmaker Joe Swanberg? His latest movie (as a director) started showing up on the festival circuit before his prior one hit theaters, and "Drinking Buddies" wasn't nearly as slow in moving through the system as one he appears in, "You're Next", was. The latter movie is likely to be linked to this one for some, as its director and writer are in front of the camera here, playing characters that they themselves inspired. It makes "24 Exposures" a curiosity, although it's not bad for those not exactly familiar with all the off-screen connections.

Billy (Wingard) and Michael (Barrett) both deal with dead bodies in their course of work, making them and cleaning them up, respectively. Billy's probably not a serial killer, though - he's a photographer who specializes in creating images designed to look like murders and suicides. It's the murder of a model that causes their paths to cross, where the detective going through a tough divorce encounters not just Michael, but his girlfriend and collaborator Alex (Caroline White), model Callie (Sophia Takal), and Rebecca (Helen Rogers), a waitress he's trying to get to pose for him, albeit one with a very possessive boyfriend (Mike Brune).

Swanberg plays with the line between reality and art quite a bit in this movie, as the audience is never quite sure whether the camera lingering on a dead young woman is going to pan over to Michael and some other cops arriving on the scene or pull back to show Billy and his crew making sure everything is just right for the photograph. It's an interesting sort of comment on how we as an audience react to violence in our entertainment, with the exact same images producing horror or cheers depending on context. It's a neat trick that thankfully doesn't get overused enough that the implicit accusation makes Billy into a monster.

The line blurs further; Billy and Michael are intended to be versions of the people playing them (Wingard is a filmmaker drawn to dark subject matter; Barrett was a detective before succeeding as a writer), and much of the cast has worked together in various capacities before. The result, especially given Swanberg's tendency to not write a script but rather let his actors improvise everything, is a bit of a mixed bag: Wingard and Barrett are not primarily actors, and it shows, but a situation where they are less acting than pretending, their closeness to the characters at least gives their scenes a fair amount of authenticity. The actresses playing against them manage to capture the same unconstructed vibe, especially newcomer Caroline White as the girlfriend who is grounded enough to handle nuts-and-bolts stuff for the artistic Billy. Sophia Takal and Helen Rogers play an interesting pair of opposites, with Rogers' Rebecca shy but tempted and Takal's Callie rather headstrong.

As mentioned, Swanberg tends to have his cast improvise a great deal of his movies, and while that has the benefit of giving the characters distinctive voices, it's not always conducive to making something as plot-oriented as a murder mystery or erotic thriller. Sure, in his mind this movie was about examining the dynamic of the Wingard/Barrett team, but I don't know that he discovers anything particularly revelatory there. The set-up of the cheerful erotic photographer and the depressed detective whose paths cross on a homicide investigation is at least interesting, as are the women floating around Billy. That may be my biggest issue, though - there is a lot to that half of the story and very little to the other. It's kind of the point - Billy's problems are due to excessive socialization while Michael's are down to too little - but there should be something to keep the bigger character from taking over an improvised movie, as well as give it solid ending.

Full disclosure: I saw "24 Exposures" less than 24 hours after "You're Next", with Swanberg on-hand to talk about both, and found it particularly intriguing as a companion piece. On its own, it makes for an interesting mumblecore-ish take on genre material, even if it does occasionally show how those two things are not easily compatible.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=25411&reviewer=371
originally posted: 09/16/13 02:22:24
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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USA
  24-Jan-2014
  DVD: 27-May-2014

UK
  N/A

Australia
  24-Jan-2014


Directed by
  Joe Swanberg

Written by
  Joe Swanberg

Cast
  Adam Wingard
  Simon Barrett
  Helen Rogers
  Caroline White
  Sophia Takal



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