Directed by Randal Plunkett
The beginning of this film, with the figure of a young girl drifting in a monochrome countryside through trees beside a long pool, all menace and sorrowfulness, put me immediately in mind of the opening moments of Don’t Look Now. Intentional? Whatever, it immediately set a mood of terrified melancholy and loss which hung around throughout, coming very much into focus far later when I had almost forgotten about it.
Diivided into chapters like a book, the story comes slowly and piecemeal. We begin by meeting protagonist Simone (Katharine Isabelle), a dislikeable, graceless, foul-mouthed drunk, off shopping for more vodka. Her car is falling to pieces, her house is scruffy and chaotic, contents half packed up, half spewed around the once elegant rooms. Gradually we discover more about her. That she was formerly a successful transatlantic rock musician known as Sim Chaos. That she is writing a book – her second, as it later turns out – but struggling badly with writer’s block and with considerable demons that are hinted at in dreams or memories. Images of vicious arguments, bloodied hands, anguish, intermingle with softly lit excerpts of the book as she struggles to write it, where ill-intentioned men hunt an old factory for a girl. Something terrible has once happened to Simone, but whatever our suspicions we must wait a while to see quite what.
Soon into her life comes the enigmatic young woman (Hazel Doupe), seen earlier, whom she knocks down when returning at night from another drunken foray. Getting her home, she patches up her injuries and reluctantly allows her to stay for a while. What to make of this girl? At first she seems a possible alien, gingerly testing Simone’s proffered instant noodles (who can blame her?) and coffee, as if for the first time, and her wounds healing unnaturally swiftly. Yet she too is suffering dreams, where a group of young people stand immobile on sand dunes looking out to sea, and a sinister man with lined face and dark glasses fixes his eyes on her. But soon she becomes a normalizing presence, tidying and cleaning, acting like a sister to Simone, and taming the chaotic home. And as Simone warms to the girl, so we warm to Simone.
The two central performances are stunning. Katharine Isabelle excels as the troubled Simone, whether hiding or letting rip her emotions and vulnerabilities. But it’s Hazel Doupe as the girl who really impresses, that face made for the screen, so often impassive but flickering with the tiniest indications of thoughts and feelings, and, when it comes, one of the most warming smiles I’ve seen for a long time. Uncertainty as to the genre we’re in here, supernatural, horror, thriller, psychodrama, adds to the feeling of trepidation engendered by the slow-moving exposition, which is perfectly judged so as never to quite lose or puzzle us too much. Is the girl there at all (does anyone else ever see her?). Is she an alien wanderer, a ghost, a spirit, a healing angel? Is Simone a murderer? What is the meaning of the dream on the dunes?
Randal Plunkett has taken many staples of standard film themes – the need for mothering, and to mother, disintegrating rock star, enigmatic beings, unopened boxes, mysterious chaps with dark glasses, and made something new out of them. Meditations on loss, renewal, even the creative process, interconnect.
It’s a weakness of mine to always feel ever so slightly let down when a resolution comes, and I did have my usual teeter towards this at times towards the end, but the two performances, a strong script, and perhaps most of all Philipp Morozov’s disquieting, enthralling cinematography, make this a film to linger in the imagination.