Written by: Arik Martin
Directed by: Andrew Moorman
Starring: Marina Shtelen, Aaron Boucher, and Steven Pritchard
Reviewed by: Brett G.
ĒI've been choking on my own blood my whole life, to the point where I can't stand the taste. But I wonder how it tastes to someone else, someone as sick as me.Ē
Sometimes, the ethos of ďless is moreĒ proves to be true, and this is very much the case with Andrew Moormanís Sympathy. Miniscule in both scope and cast, the film doesnít offer much in the way of over-the-top schlock or a grand, epic story; instead, it trades these for intimacy, intrigue, and character study to create a fairly unique cinematic experience. Set entirely in one hotel room and featuring only three cast members, the film manages to pack quite a few surprises and shocks within its 104 minute run-time. Surprisingly, thereís also rarely a dull moment to be found despite its seemingly limited premise.
The film literally opens when the door to the aforementioned hotel room is blasted open. Here enter Trip, a bank-robber, and Sara, the teenager heís taken hostage to use as leverage. After accidentally shooting Sara in the shoulder, Trip leaves to gather supplies to clean up the mess. He returns to quite a surprise: apparently, a recently escaped convict, Dennis, heard all the commotion and has essentially taken Sara hostage himself. Now handcuffed to the bed in agonizing pain, Sara is at the mercy of her two captors. Trip is merely an incompetent thief when compared to Dennis, who is not merely a petty crook; instead, heís a psychopath who relishes in killing without remorse. Sara must somehow play the two men against each other if she intends to escape the ordeal alive.
Shot on a budget of $6500, Sympathy is a throwback to low-budget, grindhouse exploitation shockers of the 70s, with a dash of Hitchcockian thriller thrown in for good measure. Itís certainly a grim and gritty affair, and itís fairly visceral: thereís several stabbings, gunshot wounds, and even the removal of some appendages along the way when the film really wants to get mean. However, none of this is the primary attraction. Instead, itís the tightly wound script that subtly hints that nothing is as it seems here, a fact that is continually reinforced until the filmís meandering climax that works nicely to reconfigure the entire story. Indeed, the filmís ability to toy with the mind of the viewer is its strongest attribute, and the title here is not without purpose because youíll be surprised who you actually feel sympathy for here before itís all said and done.
I think one of the highest compliments you can pay a thriller is to say it all makes sense in the end, no matter how unbelievably it seems to be unfolding. Sympathy is like this. There are moments that feel disingenuous and perhaps require an extreme suspension of disbelief, but these reservations are ultimately washed away by the filmís climax. There are some moments in the script that could use a bit of a trimming, as the characters do tend to get a bit verbose and even a little existential with their dialogue, but the film is mostly well wrought and tightly conceived. When the film is thrilling, itís very thrilling despite the fact the viewer never leaves the hotel room itself. Donít be fooled by the filmís seemingly torture-porn-inspired conceptóthis one is much more psychological and in the vein of something like Saw rather than its knockoffs.
Presentation-wise, the film is expectedly a low-fi affair. Thereís nothing especially slick about the production, but it is competent. The grimy, gritty feel actually helps the film, given its voyeuristic setup; instead of being simply cinematic, the film instead offers a fly on the wall perspective thatís intimate and even a bit claustrophobic at times. The acting from the three leads is solid enough, with Steven Prichard being the ultimate standout in the role of trip. Though all three characters require a fair amount of range, Prichardís Trip feels the most believable in the end, though both Marina Shtelen and Aaron Boucher do fine jobs as well. Shtelen especially plays her characterís soft, coy moments well, and Boucher does a good job of making you believe in his characterís psychosis. Basically, itís a movie where you get what you pay for, but it would seem that cast and crew stretched every single one of the 6500 dollars that went into this one. While a bigger budget and more experienced crew could no doubt do the filmís concept justice, the low-fi, quick and dirty approach works well enough here because the rawness matches the subject matter well. For the most part, thereís literally only the characters and the setting, and the film keeps its focus on them and allows the story to move through them without much pretense.
The final product is rough around the edges and could use a few more cuts for pacing purposes, but, for the most part, Sympathy is a thriller that delivers. Unfolding and unraveling until the final minute, itís a thriller that delivers enough twists and turns to satisfy. Coming to DVD on April 27th by way of Vicious Circle Films and Breaking Glass Pictures, the film will boast an anamorphic transfer and a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack. The screener provided for me boasted a decent transfer thatís likely representative of the filmís intended low-lit, grungy look. Audio was a bit more rough and muffled at times, but is again likely reflective of the filmís budget and intent. The final DVD package will also feature a commentary with a cast and crew, plus a trailer for the film. Itís a film thatís already gained a decent amount of buzz, and with good reasonóitís one of the better independent horror features thatís been produced in recently memory, and itís one that should be checked out. In the end, you might be amazed by how many surprises can be unveiled between three strangers within the confines of a dingy hotel room. Buy it!
For more information, please visit the Breaking Glass website.
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