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Interstate / Sole Possessions   B

Innuendo Films

Year Released: 2004 / 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Brad Osborne
Writer: Eric Vale
Cast: Jeffrey Schmidt, Bill Flynn, Jennifer Holland, Elise Baughman, Dameon Clarke, Lapree Edwards, Eric Vale, Carolyn Sykes.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

In 2001 Brad Osborne's $4,000 digital-video debut, Hall of Mirrors, was self-released directly to video and DVD, scoring rave reviews from online critics and sending ripples through certain circles of the microcinema community. It's easy to see why. Amid all the sloppy horror movies and dopey comedies, it was a staggering breath of fresh air -- a slick Mamet-style neo-noir thriller in which a gambling junkie named Dylan is seduced by a beautiful femme fatale and the elusive promise of easy money. It packed a mean punch. But beyond the shadowy noir atmosphere and the twisty con-game plot, what resonated was the movie's haunting coda about our capacity for self-delusion under the inescapable power of addiction. If Dylan is able to turn the tables on his deceivers, he can't stop deceiving himself: will "one last bet" ever really be the last?

Self-delusion and deception continue to weave through Osborne's follow-up short films, Interstate and Sole Possessions, both written and produced by Hall of Mirrors star Eric Vale. The deep shadows and shaky morality of noir still hang over the proceedings, only with a horror-tinged Twilight Zone twist. But unlike Hall of Mirrors, whose DV-noir aesthetic was impressive but limited, these were shot on 35mm film, which is all the better for the shadow-draped visuals.

In Interstate (2004, 18 min.), a late-night drive down a desolate stretch of highway turns into a nightmare for Foster (Jeffrey Schmidt). After a sinister voice on a talk-radio program warns him of his impending death, his car breaks down and an old man (Bill Flynn) offers him a ride. As they drive further into the night, the voice keeps telling Foster that he is soon going to die, making Foster question both his state of mind and the intentions of the kindly stranger: Is Foster delusional or could this old guy have a few skeletons in his closet? If the final revelations aren't entirely surprising, the film still works thanks to its foreboding atmosphere. From the ominous roadside locations and the shadow-rich cinematography to the immersive sound design, Interstate is an immediate, gripping experience.

Sole Possessions (2005, 15 min.) is a bit more interesting. During the course of an initially romantic restaurant dinner, a young woman named Claire (Elise Baughman) discovers that she may be a mere product of her boyfriend's imagination. In essence, her identity might be one great deception. It's an intimate, dialogue-driven film, given surprising vitality by the tension-building rhythms of Osborne's editing and the sharp performances of Baughman as the painfully distraught Claire and Dameon Clarke as her quietly menacing boyfriend. As it builds to its frenzied climax, the film becomes an intriguing meditation on the free will of fictional characters, bringing to mind, of all things, Ingmar Bergman's Hour of the Wolf in its depiction of such characters rising up against their creator.

For both Foster in Interstate and Claire in Sole Possessions, deception is at the root of their identity and actions. It is this core deception that drives their escalating sense of desperation that inevitably culminates in violent bloodshed. Like Dylan in Hall of Mirrors and the protagonists of countless noirs past, overcoming the perceived deception is partly about figuring out who you can trust -- which can be a tricky thing to do when sometimes you can't even trust yourself. If these two films don't have the unexpected punch of Hall of Mirrors, they offer their own distinctive pleasures and confirm Osborne's remarkable talent. If this is what happens while he's biding his time between features, I can't wait to see what's next.

Review published 01.05.2006.

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