Austin Film Festival 2014
By Linc Leifeste | October 28, 2014
Director: Justin Paul Miller
Writers: Justin Paul Miller, Sam Zvibleman
Starring: Joseph E. Murray, Mary Kate Wiles, Alex Anfanger, Eric Frentzel, Rhomeyn Johnson
Harold (Joseph E. Murray) is a neurotic, reclusive sound engineer (by obsessive hobby, not career) who suffers intensely from allergies and spends the vast majority of his time safely alone in his house, making recordings of his neighborhood and neighbors using the various microphones he’s strategically placed around his house. As it turns out, there’s not a lot of money in spending your days that way, so he’s found himself in financial trouble. Enter Ally (Mary Kate Wiles), a cute young redheaded “manic pixie dream girl” who seems to spend her days biking around, drawing cartoon sketches in her sketchbook and hanging out at a bike repair shop with her friend (Alex Anfanger), who’s head over heels in love with her. Ally’s looking for a place to live and Harold’s in need of a renter to reduce his monthly expenses so they wind up an odd couple.
Harold is infinitely odd, bordering at times on flat-out creepy, so it seems peculiar that Ally seems so comfortable with her new living situation. But then it seems Ally lives in a world of her own creation, in which everything is a fun game and there are no worries to be found. But when a young neighbor girl turns up missing, things take a turn toward the serious, or at least they should.
Harold believes his audio recordings might hold the answer to the girl’s abduction and Ally, of course, is always up for a good mystery adventure. And the suspect list is long. There’s a homeless man that is often found rolling his shopping cart filled with his worldly belongings through the neighborhood. There’s a creepy reclusive neighbor who stockpiles birds. There’s the father of the missing girl, who seems to have anger issues and is in a stormy relationship with the girl’s mother. And there’s also a villainous, black-leather-jacket-wearing thug with a black pickup truck who’s menacingly cruising the neighborhood.
The film does an admirable job of keeping the audience guessing as to the girl’s fate and who her abductor might have been while also repeatedly building and releasing tension but the weight of the missing girl’s fate is often forgotten in all of it, overshadowed by Ally’s “business as usual” fun bantering visits with her bike repair-friend and her lackadaisical approach to the investigation, even as the possibility grows ever stronger that Harold himself could be the abductor.
The film is well-acted and well shot, with a number of visually striking moments (there’s great repeat use of a nighttime tunnel), but suffers a bit from the attempted marriage of a quirky, almost lighthearted, tone with dark, menacing material and from being stocked with characters whose quirk levels are off the charts. The audience is kept guessing until the very end about the young girl’s fate but when the reveal finally comes, it feels a bit anticlimactic and lightweight. Ultimately, leaving the film’s Rear Window influences buried beneath its flood of light, quirky, indie tendencies.