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by Scott Weinberg

"A night in the life of Montreal"
4 stars

The "all in one night" concept is a fantastic movie gimmick when used properly. The nocturnal claustrophobia of Scorsese's "After Hours"; the comical stress levels of "Adventures in Babysitting"; heck, even the oppressively bleak nightmare world of Gaspar Noe's "Irreversible" was aided by an insular time structure that lent the dramatic proceedings a hypnotic urgency. Gavin Heffernan's admirable debut film, Expiration, may not be as entirely successful as this trio of films (ok, it's better than "Babysitting"), yet the fledgling filmmaker crafts a generally fascinating tale of lost souls bounding in and out of one nocturnal scrape after another.

The set-up is simple, though the execution surely was not: here we have three twenty-somethings, two gals and a guy. The guy is Sam (played exceedingly well by writer/director Gavin Heffernan), a decent young fellow who opts to propose to lifelong "best friend" Niki (Erin Simkin) when he discovers that she is pregnant. Sam and Niki take off for a night in the city, so that the well-intentioned guy can propose marriage in a traditionally romantic fashion.

The chain reaction of events that occur in place of one "traditionally romantic" evening would take several paragraphs to detail, plus such references would certainly spoil the flick's more surprising elements - so let's just say that Niki gets really sick and Sam sets out for an all-night pharmacy in search of some Pepto-Bismol.

While at the store, Sam loses his rather expensive engagement ring to a gun-toting thief. With newfound companion Rachel (Janet Lane) at this side (she's a reluctant drug courier in big trouble - if she doesn't recover her stash from the same criminal), Sam sets out to follow a string of clues in an effort to retrieve the stolen goods. Meanwhile, a hungover Niki wakes up in her car, is unpleasantly mistaken for a prostitute, and ends up in her own series of arcane goings-on.

A straightfoward dramatic piece for the most part, Expiration also doles out its fair share of lofty character contemplations. Sam wonders if he's marrying Niki for the right reasons; Rachel, facing one unpleasant punishment, begins to reassess her life's plan; and Niki learns some ugly life lessons from a well-intentioned streetwalker and her equally unhappy teenage daughter.

Shot "on the cheap" in the darkened streets of downtown Montreal, Expiration is a low-budget indie flick of the highest order. Many young filmmakers would use this opportunity to deliver some sort of broad "up all night" comedic farce, but Heffernan clearly has something on his mind other than predictable pitfalls and Party-Boy silliness. Expiration is laden with thoughtful and introspective conversations, each of which adeptly (and surprisingly) avoid that air of Obnoxious Angst so prevalent in similar productions. This is a film with an impressive brain in its head, most evident during an allegorical sequence in which Sam and Rachel chance upon their quarry's den - and find him participating in a Russian Roulette game involving a syringe full of HIV-contaminated blood. It's an arty and abstract sequence that could easily have turned out maudlin and self-important; quite impressive that it does not.

Expiration does take a little "warming up to" but once you get used to the raw, grass-roots delivery (the flick's budget is probably one-tenth of the catering expenses on a big studio film) you'll notice that you're watching a fairly hypnotic little tale, one impressively laden with some really strong acting performances. The standout (in more ways than one, if you get my meaning) is Janet Lane as Rachel. Here's a character, a lovely young woman, working as drug courier for a certifiable sleazeball. Yet Lane's performance is not overloaded with sorrow and regret for her actions; this is a real-life gal trying to get ahead through any means. Heffernan himself is also very strong, beginning the film as a nice guy full of predictably noble intentions and ending it as a man prepared to make some decidedly unpleasant decisions about his life. The actor avoids all of the "nice guy banality" that often comes part and parcel with such a protagonist, bringing a low-key realism to a performance that absolutely buoys the film.

Admirable enough that "Expiration" is able to make the rather difficult "all in one night" gimmick work so entertainingly well. But what's even more impressive is that Heffernan and company have crafted a film both entertaining on its surface - and possessed of a heart and soul underneath.

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originally posted: 10/12/03 10:09:30
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User Comments

1/14/04 Paul Bonner Quite an achievement for a budget-less film. Great performances, professional quality 5 stars
11/21/03 Idamis Torres I loved this film. I was pleasantly surprised and impressed. 5 stars
10/28/03 KIKI COLE FANTASTIC!!! 5 stars
10/16/03 Richard Lane All of the cast gave 110% to this movie, better than some of Hollywood's A-list. 5 stars
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Directed by
  Gavin Heffernan

Written by
  Gavin Heffernan

  Janet Lane
  Gavin Heffernan
  Erin Simkin
  Yetide Badaki
  Denise DePass
  Paul Rogic

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