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by Jay Seaver

"Lots of style, fair amount of substance."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2007 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: The atmosphere is thick in "Puritan", and sometimes it feels as if the film is constructed entirely out of atmosphere - you could get lost in the shadows, the strange lighting, the hints of the paranormal. Underneath it all is a classically-structured film noir, one which plays by the rules of that sort of film while at the same time injecting something supernatural without the two feeling in conflict.

Simon Puritan (Nick Moran) used to be a reporter, but has made his living by giving "psychic" readings in between migraines ever since his father died. Before one reading, a terribly burned man (Pete Hodge) tells him that his wife will be coming in for a reading soon, and gives him a little information about her dead sister. Simon, of course, will fall for the beautiful Ann Bridges (Georgina Rylance), but soon discovers that she is married to a wealthy and unscarred American self-help author (David Soul). The burned man shows up again, saying to stay away from Ann, because she'll only bring trouble - but once someone like Ann has you...

Simon may not truly be able to contact the dead, but he hangs around in eerie places. The house in Whitechapel that he inherited from his father was once the property of Aleister Crowley, and there are stories of hauntings ever since he summoned the devil himself there one night. It was built , as were several nearby churches, by Nicholas Hawksmoore, said to be a pagan who imbued his buildings with dark magic. All of this is, of course, almost completely irrelevant to the main plot of the film, but they are interesting little facts and details on their own, the sort of thing that makes a person pay closer attention and maybe pick up on truly important bits of information.

The basic story itself is classic film noir material - down on his luck guy falls in with an impossibly beautiful woman even though he should know better, getting sucked into a web that involves blackmail, crime, and betrayal because of it. Take out all mention of the otherworldly and this film would feel right at home next to any old-school detective tale. Filmmaker Hadi Hajaig doesn't hide from it; indeed, although the film is set in the present day and shot in color, the frequent shadows and silhouettes are straight out of the 1940s. And though the locations are generally Victorian-era buildings inhabited by modern people, they feel like they're from some time in between, too. The combination gives the film a sort of timeless feeling, as if no single era can contain it.

Timeless is a nice word for the paranormal elements that creep in as the film goes along, as the present can become the past and vice versa. When this element first started pushing its way to the forefront, I admit I felt a bit annoyed - I was enjoying the suspicion and backstabbing, which rather fades into the background - but I did grow to like the story came together toward the end. There's still a price for everything, although it's different than usual; Hajaig manages to stay away from the usual end to the story of the detective and the femme fatale while still making it a bitter pill to swallow.

There are some nice performances underneath the heavy stylization. Nick Moran plays Simon as beaten down but not yet sarcastic, still a little too optimistic to have become truly hard-boiled. Georgina Rylance is perfect in her part; sophisticated and elegant but with the bit of desperation that hints at something more complex. Unlike a lot of the classic femmes fatales, Rylance doesn't have Ann telegraph any untoward intentions; every bit of trouble she leads Simon into will be his choice. David Soul hits the right notes as her American husband - we don't like him, but we spend a lot of time not sure whether he's in the mastermind or patsy category.

In some ways, "Puritan" is too stylish; the characters occasionally have a hard time crawling out from under the imagery. The movie isn't all gloss, though, and winds up a pretty nifty genre-bender.

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originally posted: 08/09/07 14:40:04
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Fantasia Film Festiva For more in the 2007 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/17/09 Shaun Wallner Well made. 4 stars
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Directed by
  Hadi Hajaig

Written by
  Hadi Hajaig

  Nick Moran
  Georgina Rylance
  Pete Hodge
  David Soul
  Ralph Brown

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