Perpetual character actor Leland Orser (his credits include Se7en, Alien: Resurrection and the Taken series) gets a much-deserved lead role in this low-budget drama in which he plays Ansel, a cult deprogrammer and past-his-prime pop psychologist hired by a mother and father to rescue their little girl, Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), from her willful immersion in a sketchy, pseudo-religious organization known as Faults. Director Riley Stearns sets a seriocomic tone right from the start, as Ansel tries to con his way into a free meal at a hotel restaurant with a voucher he fished out of the garbage. (When he’s called out by management, he starts shoveling forkfuls of ketchup into his face on the assumption that he won’t get ejected until he’s done eating.) Orser is fantastic in these bits, which establish the general desperateness of his situation. But the film soon gets quieter, and weirder, as he kidnaps Claire and holes up with her in a motel room while her anxious parents wait next door. Fortunately, the film is generally up to the challenge it sets itself; scenes where Ansel and Claire converse, one on one, as he tries to work her out of her delusions even as she evinces an unshakeable faith in her beliefs are plenty compelling for their unpretentious intensity. But the whole thing suffers from too-much-story syndrome, with a subplot about Ansel’s manager (Jon Gries) and his enforcer (the terrific Lance Reddick) looking to extract $20,000 from their near-destitute client feeling dropped in from another movie entirely. “Hey,” you might wonder, “where can this possibly be going that so much extraneous stuff needs to be happening?” It’s distracting and, worse, it’s dull. Still pretty good stuff in all.
Staged almost entirely on green-screened sets, which are combined with miniature photography to occasionally amusing DIY effect, Repo Chick‘s every shot is ersatz. It shouldn’t even be watchable, but writer-director Alex Cox manages to keep the cheese factor low and even brings a modicum of pizazz to the proceedings. It’s a nominal sequel to Cox’s 1984 cult film Repo Man, updated as a funhouse reflection of the mortgage crisis. In the title role, Jaclyn Jonet plays a pink-party-dress-clad heiress who’s disinherited by her family due to generally Hilton-ish behavior and lands a job in repossession. Eventually, she falls into the clutches of a group of anti-golf terrorists. (Really!) The production values are bargain basement, but the performances are fairly sharp from top to bottom. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot to work with in this too-familiar semi-satire, which is agreeably droll but never funny enough, smart enough or even punk-rock enough to really compensate for its embarrassingly Tosh.0 virtual-set approach to filmmaking. Good for Cox getting this made — it’s a better film than the plusher, superficially similar Southland Tales, for instance — but I miss the sense of time and place of his early films and really hope this type of cartoonish digital artifact doesn’t point the new cheapjack way forward for marginalized indie filmmakers.
I’d feel a little more confident describing Primer as easily the best science fiction film in god knows how long if only I was sure I fully understood thing fucking one about what goes on in its last 45 minutes. But whether it’s completely coherent in a narrative sense, I’m sure that it is a terrific little film about afterhours industry, tenderfoot genius and, of course, the evil in men’s souls.