Directed by Barbara Stepansky
DVD Provided by Hive Mind
Review by Heather Drain
Genre conventions and expectations are meant to be broken at this stage of the game. The moment you expect an automatic construct is the moment when it needs to have a young upstart come in and break it. My favorite line is forever and always, “Rip it up and start again” (TM the great Scottish post-punk band Orange Juice.) 2010's FUGUE, while ultimately succumbing to cliché, at least has some actual unexpected twists to rattle things up.
The start of many a “home bound” horror film is echoed here with an attractive, white-bread couple unpacking in a new and beautiful house. Of course, like all older homes, there is a strange history that starts to slowly reveal itself. Thankfully, there are no Indian burial grounds or pig monsters traipsing about. It contains a great yard with raw potential, perfect for Charlotte (Abigail Mittel), an aspiring landscape artist. She's survived some kind of vague accident, with the only physical remnants being a band-aid hiding a tiny scab. She soon ends up pregnant, much to her and her live-in love/former professor Howard's (Richard Gunn) reticent happiness. All seems fine in Wonder Bread land until Charlotte starts having visions of a hazy female figure roaming around the house, coinciding with part of a fugue that is lodged in her brain.
Other strange things start to happen on top of that, like Charlotte digging up a tooth and seeing an old Russian lady praying with her rosary beads by the house. On top of that, Howard acts increasingly like a jerk, even trying to “ground” her from her own backyard. Like a layer cake from Hell, you can also add brutal nightmares, gory vision and the hazy female figure trying to strangle her while intoning “Get out of my House!” Now personally, if I was Charlotte and in between having visions of a menacing figure trying to strangle me and telling me to “Get out of my house!”, I would be packing my bags and catching the next train to no murder/jerk boyfriends-ville. You don't have to tell me twice to get out. But if that was the case here, the movie would be short 40 minutes and a climax. Logic is for the abrupt.
As she delves more and more into new age tactics and the history of her own accident and subsequent lack of memory, she soon discovers some very real life monsters compared to what initially seemed to be more ghostly and ethereally menacing. The scariest ghosts of all aren't the ones shrouded in sheets, but instead the ones that are very much alive and with a pulse.
FUGUE is an ambitious movie that blends in the haunted homeowner subgenre with a nod to such classics as GASLIGHT. Having the latter mixed with the former is a keen move and one that definitely deserves some applause. Unfortunately, the other element that emerges towards the end seems to be a nod towards the new breed of slasher movies that have come out in the past few years, right down to the cheesy last shot. It is this that weakens the other stronger elements of the movie. There's even a torture type scene that feels out of place with the pale quietude of the rest of the film.
The acting is uniformly solid, with Richard Gunn being standout out as the intellectual and shifty Howard. It's too bad that he wasn't given more to do with his role because he shows a good amount of gravitas here. Abigail Mittel does a good job as well as the disassociative disorder victim/heroine in peril Charlotte. There's enough character detail to make things interesting, to the extent that it makes one yearn for more, as in less obvious horror and more internal workings. To quote Henry Chinaski, “I've got the guts but the guts need fuel!”
On the filmmaking side of things, all of the shots are
well framed and include the occasional striking image, with the standout
being blood spurting out of the soil onto Charlotte's wan face. This sort
of strange and horrific imagery is so encouraged. If there had been more
of an emphasis on this and the psychological elements, then this would
be a much stronger film. It's not horrible by any means and is overall
a well made movie. The subtle use of color, with blood reds and bright
blue skies contrasting against beige and other pale surfaces, is really
nice. As a whole the film makes some promises, some that are better kept
than others. That said, it also provides some good acting and some genuinely