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by Jay Seaver

"A thriller that's never just crazy."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2012 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: We're probably healthier as a society for not throwing terms like "insane" or "crazy" around quite so much as we used to. It's not always the case in the movies, where simple homicidal maniacs are often the norm, and that's what makes this slow-burner from Alberta interesting: Its main character is even more horrified than the audience.

Oliver Lorenz (Alex D. Mackie) is not well, and probably never has been. Top of his class at Harvard Medical School and the son of another brilliant doctor, he has been in a mental hospital for the last six years for his crimes. One of his doctors (Diane Wallace) has successfully argued for a supervised release, and that's how he comes to be working as a janitor in a clinic and meets Claire (Brittney Grabill), a pretty young nurse. Dr. Peck warns him that he's probably not ready for that sort of relationship, and events soon prove her right, sending Oliver (with Claire in tow as a hostage) across the country to look for his father's notes, which he is sure contain the secret to curing his condition.

Many stories focusing on this sort of serial/spree killer tend to boil things down to an inciting incident, or paint the person in question as a simple monster. Or he's an antagonist where the cops chasing him can at best hope to discover patterns. Writer/director Braden Croft, on the other hand, is careful about always framing Oliver as mentally ill; he's not a freak or subhuman, and though his condition leaves him not just capable of doing horrible things but prone to it, he certainly seems smart and decent enough most of the time that locking him up forever would be a waste. He's rational and humble enough to face his demons, and the arguments for him certainly seem more reasoned than the ones against him at the start.

Alex D. Mackie takes that and runs with it, making Oliver a compellingly tragic figure. He communicates the character's emotional fragility exceptionally well without ever making Oliver come across as timid, and there's a mounting fear when he starts to lose control that wouldn't be out of place in a supernatural horror movie, except that what we see afterward isn't some other entity but the guy we like, just given a little nudge. He does have a bit of the doctor's certainty to him, an important part of his characterization although it's not the defining trait that it is for Diane Wallace's Dr. Peck. Brittney Grabill is also fairly impressive as Claire, all the more so when you consider that at the time of filming she was still in high school and playing someone half again her actual age. Braden and company weren't looking for that in casting, but it perhaps subconsciously suggest that Oliver is attracted to something not yet affected by the likes of him. That said, Claire never seems like a kid, and Grabill does a nice job of capturing the character's own story of falling prey to bad instincts even though she knows better.

Edmonton isn't quite the filmmaking hub that certain other cities are, so Croft doesn't have a huge amount to work with in the way of resources. It sometimes means things are stretched a little thin, but this is the sort of independent film that wears its low budget well. Croft writes, produces, directs, edits, and shoots the film using high-end consumer equipment, and it gives the film something of a documentary feel: He'll often choose one angle and stick with it, putting the viewer right in the characters' world. In fact, some scenes are done as documentary footage, although he wisely limits that to quick exposition that couldn't come from other characters without it being awkward or having a different context. He does neat things with perspective, too, sticking close enough to Oliver and Claire to create empathy and then suddenly and effectively showing how things look to a complete outsider.

Those moves aren't tricks, per se, but they're evidence of a pretty savvy filmmaker who knows what he has available (a good cast and cheap cameras) and figures out how to play to their strengths. "Hemorrhage" makes its characters compelling enough to make the audience lean in a little closer much more often than it pulls back.

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originally posted: 08/18/12 12:03:40
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2012 series, click here.

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