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Observance
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by Jay Seaver

"Private Eyes - They're watching you and cracking up."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2015 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Writer/director Joseph Sims-Dennett initially seems to start out with a private eye story with the background redacted before quickly evolving into something more sinister. It's an intense stakeout thriller, if one that leans more toward how this sort of activity messes with a detective's mind than what he learns.

Not that Parker (Lindsay Farris) is necessarily a licensed private detective; he may just be a guy who is in desperate need of money to pay his late son's outstanding hospital bills. Whatever the case may be, he's been offered to pay five figures to sit in an apartment across the street from that of a beautiful woman (Stephanie King), surveil it, and report what he has observed when an employer who demands complete anonymity calls. When the assignment drags on for days longer than expected without "Subject One" leaving her apartment, everything he learns seems to be a dead end, and her fiancé starts to seem dangerous... Well, he starts getting more than antsy.

For two buildings just about right next to each other, the two apartments in question certainly give the opposite impression: The woman's is cozy but nice, while Parker's squat bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the one I had to clean with a snow shovel when moving out, ankle-deep in scrap paper and with newspaper covering the walls and windows. It's a pit that obviously corresponds to Parker's shredded life, and then some, and manages to get more grotesque as the film goes along, with dead rats and a container of unknown black liquid. It also feels like a feedback loop - a place takes on the personality of the person staying there, whether actively or passively (when Parker doesn't use his spare time to clean the place), but also influences the outlook of the person in the space.

Sims-Dennett and company don't just create an atmosphere out of the setting; much of the work is also done by their extremely miserly way of doling out information about the case. One can probably build a conspiracy tale out of what he and co-writer Josh Zammit have Parker discover - there are even hints pointing to the supernatural - but it would likely miss the point, as this is as much a film about how not knowing eats at a person. Maybe it causes them to see things that aren't there, maybe it causes them to doubt their own sanity based upon what they do see. Sims-Dennett builds a great deal of tension around the large gap in the middle of his plot, especially since he abjectly refuses to allow the void to define a shape by its absence.

Well, that and getting excellent work from Lindsay Farris. Farris is in nearly every scene of the film, and does excellent work throughout, whether Parker is the reasonable viewpoint character or losing his mind. Flashbacks flesh his character out a bit, but they are naturally not completely trustworthy, though this makes his performance even more intriguing. The cast around him, whether on the phone, mostly shot at a distance like Stephanie King (who still manages to impress) or actually sharing a scene, does a fine job of adding their part to the mystery.

Between them, they come up with a creepy little movie with next to no frills, which is always impressive, for such a no-frills feature. Even as a person far more fond of clarity than ambiguity, I found myself very impressed by the way this one simmered.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=29064&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/21/15 04:59:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Vancouver Film Festival For more in the 2015 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.

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