Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Panic: A Music Critic in Jeopardy

To be a good music critic, you can’t simply rely on review copies. Eventually, you need to hear the music live. Andrew Deeley understands this perfectly well, but for eight months he has remained homebound due to the severe post-traumatic stress resulting from a violent physical assault. However, he will have to venture outside to have any chance of finding a missing neighbor in Sean Spencer’s Panic (trailer here), which releases today on VOD.

For weeks, Deeley has been spying on Kem, a pretty Asian woman in the apartment building facing his, through binoculars. It is a little creepy, but he is enormously sad. Arguably, his internet hook-up with Amy might be a positive sign, but before she leaves, she observes someone attacking Kem. Of course, she refuses to talk to the police, for reasons one can easily guess, leaving the agitated Deeley to conclude he will have to find her himself.

Deeley will actually start trudging the streets of London again, but each confrontation will more likely lead to a panic attack than physical violence. Nevertheless, he manages to blunder across a dangerous human trafficking operation. Even if he finds Kem, it is doubtful he has the wherewithal to save her, but Amy is made of sterner stuff. Eventually, she helps the guilt-tripping music journalist, despite her better judgment.

Deeley might be the most pitiable obsessive peeping tom thriller-protag maybe ever, but he is always acutely human. You can feel the palpable sense of danger whenever he merely passes a bad guy on the sidewalk. That is how it works in real life when average people suddenly confront the criminal element. The decidedly damaged and unheroic Deeley acts as a corrective to just about every cinematic everyman amateur sleuth who came before him. Even Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly are unrealistically cool and collected in Hitchcock’s Rear Window, an obvious touchstone film for Spencer (Thelma Ritter would be much truer to life).

As Deeley, David Gyasi looks like the personification of a nervous breakdown. It is a tense, grueling, uncompromisingly neurotic performance, but somehow Gyasi maintains the quietly spectacular anxiety attack throughout the film. Indeed, he carries the picture, since he is on-screen nearly every second. However, the more forceful nature of Pippa Nixon’s Amy counterbalances him quite effectively and Yennis Cheung is even more hauntingly desperate and vulnerable as Kem, who really is in a great deal of trouble.

Nobody will accuse Spencer’s screenplay of being overly intricate, but his execution is massively moody and stylish. He also has a good ear for music to match up with a discerning listener like Deeley, including Empirical’s “Kite,” written by British jazz musician Courtney Pine, Cymande’s funky “Bird,” and “Song of a Sinner” by the “famously” lost psychedelic band, Top Drawer. It all sounds right and Carl Burke’s neon noir cinematography looks right. Recommended for fans of hip, sleek, psychologically realistic thrillers, Panic releases today (8/29) on iTunes, from Gravitas Ventures.