Observance Movie Review
Written by Angry Scholar
Directed by Joseph Sims-Dennett
Written by Joseph Sims-Dennett and Josh Zammit
2015, 90 minutes, Not Rated
Played at Fantasia 2015 on July 19th, 2015
Lindsay Farris as Parker
Stephanie King as Tenneal
Parker takes a job as a private investigator, assigned to spy on a young lady. He rents a broken-down apartment across the street from hers and sets up shop, observing her comings and goings (or stayings, since she doesn’t really leave her house) and reporting back to his anonymous employer. We learn that Parker’s son recently died and that he is estranged from his wife, and he owes an obscene amount of money in the form of his deceased son’s medical bills. This job promises some quick cash, and when the employer talks Parker into extending the assignment by a few days, he (the employer) is only too happy to increase Parker’s paycheck considerably. So it seems like a sweet deal (except for, you know, the questionable morality of the whole scenario—but money beats everything).
The specifics of Observance’s narrative are a little difficult to describe. There’s a lot of ambiguity and misdirection. Through Parker’s investigation we learn that the woman he’s spying on, Tenneal, is engaged to a fellow named Bert, whose family is rich and influential. They’ve had political aspirations in the past, but these were apparently foiled by the death of Bert’s father’s mistress, who was murdered at the family estate by their caretaker.
The connection of this scandalous morsel to the bizarre and seemingly supernatural events that overtake Parker is not immediately clear. As his stakeout continues, weird stuff starts happening (good ol’ weird stuff—I love that guy.) The weirdness includes a dead, partially rotten disemboweled rat appearing underneath Parker’s mattress; a second-degree burn that refuses to heal; and a jar full of unknown black liquid that magically gets fuller over time. When Parker discovers the severed head of some large animal (hard to tell what—my guess was a bear) in the basement of his crappy apartment, and his dead son’s pendant (which Parker had just misplaced) hanging from its mouth, shit seems to have taken a decidedly devil-worshipping turn. Things go, somewhat predictably, downhill from there.
Observance is a bit of an odd duck. It suffers from a few rather uninspired sequences of vaguely “horrific” imagery, mostly in the form of dreams/flashbacks, that put me in mind of the cursed video from The Ring. The writing is solid, and for the most part the acting is as well. Lindsay Ferris gives a good performance as the increasingly-desperate Parker, which is a good thing as a good 90% of the screen time is his. Once or twice the supporting cast fall a little flat, though it’s hard to tell if this is an issue with their acting or with the script. For the most part, though, it’s a polished and well-produced film.
One thing that I have to mention, though, is that I’m not entirely sure I understand what’s going on in this movie. This is actually kind of refreshing. It’s clear, by the end, that the “scandal” involving the dead mistress is more than it appears to be, and that something similar is happening again with Parker in the middle. What isn’t clear is the connection between the political wheelings and dealings of Bert’s family and the supernatural stuff afflicting Parker. I may need to watch the film again to get a better grasp of it all.
On the downside, there’s very little sense of urgency or real concern for any of the characters. I can’t put my finger on exactly why, but I just didn’t find myself really rooting for anyone or caring a great deal about the characters’ fates. This may be partly due to the aforementioned ambiguity—it’s not precisely clear what the conflict here is, except that Parker’s in a bad situation that’s taking a physical and mental toll on him—which may in turn be a function of my own dim-wittedness.
In the end Observance is a pretty good movie, and it may seem better with repeated viewings. That’s more than I can say for most genre films, so it’s a point in this one’s favor.