Director: Colin Krisel, James Krisel
Screenplay:Colin Krisel, James Krisel
Starring: Zach Avery, Samara Weaving, Carly Chaikin, Udo Keir, Brian Cox
Duration: 90 min
BBFC Certification: 15
Several years after his wife’s murder, Sam Pivnic (Zach Avery) is eking out a frugal existence in Paris, doing menial work for kind-hearted bar owner Gilles (Brian Cox). Haunted by the tragic events of his past, his only comfort appears to be the peace he finds watching old movies in a local Cinema. This secluded life is turned upside down when Sam sees an actress on the big screen who bears a striking similarity to his dead wife (Samara Weaving). Convinced that she might not be dead after all, Sam heads back to L.A. to track down this mysterious actress…
The debut film from writer/directors Colin and James Krisel certainly has an intriguing premise, harking back to classic psychological thrillers such as Hitchcock’s Vertigo or more contemporary fare such as Guillaume Canet’s 2006 critical smash Tell No One. Indeed, for the first quarter, the film manages to establish a tautly effective air of mystery as Sam endeavours to find Lauren Clerk, the actress who bears a supernatural similarity to Georgia, his deceased spouse. As Sam gatecrashes a Hollywood Party and subsequently begins to stalk Lauren across L.A., Colin and James Krisel begin to play with our expectations about whether his actions are truly justified as the truth he is seeking appears more and more improbable. At this point, you can even forgive the character of Kat (Carly Chaikin) a childhood friend who appears with graceless serendipity in order to help Sam solve the mystery. Yet despite the effectively handled tension and social awkwardness that permeates these early scenes and makes the film an engaging, if not exactly original, watch, the film is then hobbled by a poorly executed revelation halfway through, after which it unfortunately descends into a convoluted and illogical mess.
Part of the problem here lies with the performances. As the film progresses, Zach Avery’s cold, distant portrayal of Sam transitions from believable to bland and never succeeds in anchoring the character’s later emotional plight in anything approaching relatability or empathy. Only faring slightly better is Samara Weaving, who after an attention-grabbing turn in 2019’s fun horror/thriller Ready or Not, strangely flounders here, struggling to justify the leaps her characters are forced to make. With the two leads failing to carry the film, you’d think that heavyweights such as Brian Cox or Undo Kier would pick up the pieces but both are relegated to depressingly small roles. The appearance of Brian Cox, currently riding a career-high wave of success with HBOs brilliant Succession, is particularly baffling, barely appearing in the film at all and playing such an inconsequential role you wonder why he bothered in the first place. In fact, the only performance that delivers a lasting impression belongs to Carly Chaikin. She brings a spiky vulnerability to Kat and managers to circumnavigate the script’s shortcomings, delivering far more substance on the screen than what must have been written on the page.
Further deficiencies reveal themselves in the film’s numerous attempts at suspense. There are several set-pieces that fail to develop into anything that might have raised the pulse and a serious lack of threat deflates moments where you should be gripping your seat. A car tail across L.A. is utterly devoid of tension, a gun-toting hitman breaks into an apartment with so little impact he might as well be delivering a pizza, while a last act shootout fizzes with an anti-climatic puff instead of the no doubt intended fireworks. In the hands of more experienced directors, tense set pieces are the framework that can hold up a weak script and distract an audience from its shortcomings; without them, as is sadly the case here, purportedly tense thrillers simply descend into a dull slog to the finish line.
Where The Keisels are more successful is in exploiting a seemingly small budget. For every moment where compromises have been made (Sam and Georgia’s previous life together, for example, seems to have entirely taken place in a single, artfully lit bathtub) the directors, in collaboration with cinematographer Andrew Wheeler, do an admirable job in producing a frequently slick-looking production of impersonal cityscapes and stylish interiors; at moments where Sam is framed against the vast, dark city stretching out behind him, shimmering with unanswered questions and a sense of encroaching danger, the film briefly achieves the atmosphere of the quality thriller it aspires to be.
The final third, however, sees credibility stretched to breaking point. The plot devolves into a convoluted mish-mash involving European Gangsters and a last minute rug pull is so poorly pulled off (by the actors as much as anyone else) that it completely undermines and devalues all that has gone before. Last Moment of Clarity ends by shooting itself in an already badly wounded foot, leaving you not with the shuddering comedown that the best thrillers leave in their wake, but instead searching for an answer to a bizarre mystery…what the hell made Brain Cox want to appear in this???
Last Moment of Clarity is out now on digital, released by 101 Films and (Yet) Another Distribution Company.