Wednesday, May 14, 2014

How We Got Away With It: The Big Permanent Chill

At least when this group of friends gets together, they will not tire our eardrums with Duran Duran or whoever they were listening to while in college during the mid 1980’s. In fact, most of the clich├ęs of the Big Chill reunion film are completely side-stepped, starting with the fact most of Henry’s annual guests do not yet know there is a body on ice in Jon Lindstrom’s How We Got Away with It (trailer here), which just released on VOD from Devolver Digital Films and opens theatrically this Friday in Los Angeles.

After cooling his heels in jail for two weeks, Henry walks home to find Sarah has hung herself in his dining room. Just what his relationship is to her (among others) will be revealed over time. In the short term, he must clean up before his old friends arrive. Everyone asks “where’s Sarah,” but accepts his clumsy evasions. However, Will soon learns better when Henry takes him into his confidence. For reasons we do not immediately understand, Will agrees to help Henry with his scheme, even though it inevitably leads to increased tensions with his secretly pregnant partner, Leigh. Further complicating matters, Det. Becker keeps sniffing around for the missing Sarah, feeling guilty he ignored her cry-for-help calls. (Henry is sort off the hook on that score, given the whole jail thing.)

The real question in HWGAWI is whether the characters will figure out what is going on before the audience pieces together their backstories. Lindstrom has a maddening habit of withholding pretty basic info just to stoke the mystery. It is sort of like watching a heavily redacted episode of Murder She Wrote. You understand the whodunit is not very complicated, but you’re missing most of the exposition. Yet, somehow Lindstrom maintains a downright beguiling vibe. Frankly, it is hard to even get a proper sense of scale for Henry’s Escher house. It looks rather modest from the street entrance, but from the beach-side it seems palatial.

Regardless, Lindstrom has a knack for framing interesting shots and he seems appropriately cop-like as Becker. McCaleb Burnett does a nice slow burn as Henry and Brianne Moncrief is pleasantly engaging as Elizabeth, a somewhat younger outsider, whose presence is never really explained. Most Big Chill clones would be more satisfying if they ended with a group suicide pact, but aside from the whiny ex-junkie Ronnie, most of the HWGAWI ensemble comes across as relatively down-to-earth and behave in a mostly believable manner.

HWGAWI is not a perfect film, but something about it just festers in the subconscious, days after viewing. That is meant as a compliment. It is almost worth seeing just to compare to Lindstrom’s next film. Kind of recommended for those looking for a Rochester-set noir, How We Got Away with It opens this Friday (5/16) at the Arena Cinema in Hollywood, USA.