Greetings again from the darkness. You never want to be the ex-partner who causes a panic attack for another person … especially after 22 years apart. Writer-director Andrew Semans puts a face to whatever you call the opposite of a dream partner or role model by casting Tim Roth as David Moore. However, before we first glimpse Roth’s David, we meet Margaret (Rebecca Hall), a woman who seems to have seized control over every part of her life. Her apartment is immaculate. Her business attire classy. Her glass-paned manager’s office efficient. Her married-co-worker-with-benefits at her beck and call. Her speedy runs through town keep her focused and fit. Her about-to-turn 18-year-old daughter is prepped for college. Yep, every aspect of Margaret’s life is under control.
Most of us know what happens when we are arrogant enough to believe we are in control – life usually slaps us with a dose of reality. For Margaret, the hints are there. A tooth found in her daughter’s wallet. A bike ride gone wrong. A glimpse across the room at a seminar. Another at the shopping mall. And finally, a confrontation in the park. This is how, after 22 years, David drops back into her life – a stalker creating turmoil, doubt, and anxiety. By this point, we’ve seen Margaret doling out advice to young intern Gwyn (Angela Wong Carbone) on how to handle a manipulative boyfriend – one she deems sadistic. Margaret appears strong and is counseling Gwyn on how to be strong and find someone worthy of her love. It’s this conversation, along with how Margaret hovers over her daughter Abbie (Grace Kaufman), that tells us Margaret has a past that’s not as perfect as her present.
Margaret’s backstory is told via a single-shot extended monologue where she recounts her relationship with David. It’s a stunning bit of acting by Ms. Hall, and filmmaking that not only explains the emotional baggage weighing down Margaret, but also makes her relatable. The moment is so taut with emotion that it ends with a kinda-sorta punchline from Gwyn. The first two acts build tension and hint at the bizarre nature of the long-ago David/Margaret relationship, and the “kindnesses” (twisted shows of loyalty and devotion) involved, but we simply can’t prepare ourselves for the ‘off-the-rails’ occurrences in the final act.
Wyatt Garfield’s cinematography and the muted colors of every scene and set, enhance the feeling of suspense and pending trauma. The film provides an excellent example of the long-reaching impact of mind-control, gaslighting, and sadistic manipulation as one person tries to control another. Since Margaret refuses to come clean with her daughter, Abbie is convinced her heading off to college is causing her mother’s breakdown. Instead, the psycho-thriller goes much deeper in showing just how Margaret’s vulnerability at a young age has stuck with her more than two decades later, and no amount of Helen Reddy’s “I am Woman” can break the spell … it requires action to stifle a diabolical jerk like David.
Ms. Hall is outstanding and believable in the role, and without her performance, the story would seem like a parody of the genre. She has quite a career of playing the victim, which seems to come naturally to her, as she’s proved in such films as CHRISTINE (2016). Mr. Roth is a multi-talented actor and doesn’t shy away from becoming a despicable face of evil. Both are ‘all-in’ for these characters, as is Grace Kaufman, who has worked consistently as an actor since the age of nine, mostly in TV roles. While I’m not a huge fan of the third act or the ending, there is plenty here to admire.
Opens in theaters on July 29, 2022