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Hall of Mirrors   A

Innuendo Films / Bare Ruined Films

Year Released: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Brad Osborne
Writer: Brad Osborne
Cast: Eric Johnson, Julie Arebalo, Patrick Jordan, Halim Jabbour, Dameon Clarke, Tim Shane.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

Hall of Mirrors is a gripping and suspenseful modern-day film noir so well crafted that when the haunting score swelled up and the end credits started to roll, I couldn't move. The film is by no means original, but it's so beautifully done and absorbing that its familiarity doesn't matter. In fact, it uses its familiarity as an asset, so that when you think you know exactly where the plot is headed, it blindsides you with a twist you didn't see coming.

Dylan Hewitt (Eric Johnson) is the suitably flawed antihero of Hall of Mirrors. He's a twentysomething gambling addict who's about $90,000 in debt. While Dylan may come off as a self-centered asshole at first, watching him sink deeper into the hole he's digging for himself is painful enough to coerce us into sympathizing with the poor bastard. Even though he's not the most likable guy, you want to see him climb out of that hole and get his life together. But Dylan's creditors are getting impatient -- they want their money. What's a down-on-his-luck guy to do?

Going to a bar to get drunk is a start. At the bar, he meets a beautiful femme fatale named Mara Payton (Julie Arebalo), who he takes back to her place and falls into bed with. Later that night, after going back to his place, he gets a phone call from a guy claiming to have the solution to all of his money problems. From there on, Dylan finds himself in a nightmare world where he can never be sure who's conning him and who he can trust. It's classic noir territory. To give any more of the plot away would be spoiling things, so I'll stop right there.

Rest assured, it's an engaging ride all the way to the last frame. This is writer-director Brad Osborne's first feature film -- and yet there's a craftsmanship on display that's truly remarkable. The script is taut and intelligent, with sharp dialogue, and the brisk pacing keeps the plot moving, while holding things in a state of suspenseful uncertainty. Brad Osborne even throws in nods to other neo-noirs like David Mamet's House of Games and Roman Polanski's Chinatown. Without a doubt, Osborne is an independent filmmaker to keep an eye on.

The cast is good all around. Eric Johnson, as Dylan, is flawed and believably human -- he's a poor jerk who's tough not to care about. Johnson nails that sense hopelessness and unease. Julie Arebalo tackles the femme fatale role with admirable aplomb. Really, this is a solid cast, all supporting players included, and they deserve kudos.

I almost don't want to mention that Hall of Mirrors was shot on digital video, since the phrase "shot on video" can scare away some people, as if anything that isn't shot on film doesn't deserve to be considered as serious filmmaking. Well, let me assure you that, in this case, the format doesn't matter one bit. It's so well made -- with smooth editing, beautiful photography, and excellent lighting -- that the fact that it's shot on digital video won't even enter your mind while watching it. Sound and picture quality is superb, so that's not an issue. Besides, the movie is so engrossing you probably won't be thinking about things like that anyway.

Hall of Mirrors is available on DVD with a cast and crew commentary and a making-of documentary. The commentary features writer-director Brad Osborne, producer Marc Pilvinsky, director of photography Bobb Truax, and actors Eric Johnson and Julie Arebalo. It's a great commentary, much more engaging, fun, and informative than most. Coupled with the excellent documentary, it gives the viewer much insight into how the film was made (and on virtually no budget). There's even a touching moment in the documentary where director Brad Osborne talks about shooting the final scene and then realizing that he had just spent three months of his life working with people that he was going to miss and didn't want to say goodbye to. Also on the disc: some very funny bloopers and outtakes. The DVD and the film get nothing less than my whole-hearted recommendation.

While some mystery and suspense movies play all the right cards up until the end, where there's a cop-out resolution or a slam-bang climax that doesn't have any real significance regarding the emotional life of its characters, Hall of Mirrors plays fair all the way through and offers an ending that has a lasting emotional resonance. It's tough to find fault with this movie. It plays all its cards right.

Review published 05.10.2001.

Read our interview with Brad Osborne.

Follow Michael Scrutchin on Twitter or Letterboxd.

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