Thursday, October 19, 2017

Never Here, Produced by Pang Ho-Cheung

Miranda Fall’s latest exhibition is so creepy, it is hailed as a work of genius by the art press. Basically, when she found a poor schmuck’s phone, she proceeded to spy on him and utterly invade his personal space. Naturally, she is rather taken aback when the exposed Arthur Anderton reacts with outrage. Doesn’t he understand privacy is out of fashion? Fall finds the shoe is on the other foot when a mystery man starts stalking her, but the situation really gets complicated when she stalks him right back in Camille Thoman’s Never Here (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Her opening was an unalloyed triumph for Fall, except for Anderton’s grouchiness. Then the chaos starts. While spending the night in her flat, Fall’s married gallerist lover Paul Stark sees an assault from her window. When he refuses to call the police, she does so in his place, much like Steve Guttenberg in Curtis Hanson’s Bedroom Window. Predictably, Fall soon finds herself floundering through line-ups, relying on Stark’s vague description. Of course, she cannot risk fingering the wrong person, but she gets serious vibes from one of the suspects, so she starts following him. Maybe he is following her too, or perhaps it is Anderton or maybe even someone else.

In the small world department, it turns out the cop assigned to the case is a former college boyfriend and the victim is the journalist who just wrote up a fawning profile of Fall. Both start to doubt her slippery account of that fateful evening. We might have our doubts too. Fall definitely has the potential to turn out to be one of those “unreliable narrator” types.

Thoman is obviously deeply steeped in Antonioni’s Blow-Up: an ostensive mystery set in the hipster art world that becomes increasingly ambiguous and hallucinatory. Regrettably, but probably predictably, Thoman falls short of that lofty target. Too often, Never Here feels like it is being obscure for obscurity’s sake, rather than as part of a grand vision. There is the possibility Fall is nuts, or maybe it is just us, but the movie itself isn’t crazy enough. Fearing commitment, it never stops playing the is-she-or-isn’t-she game, without ever over-extending itself in either direction.

Still, Mireille Enos has an intriguing screen presence that mostly works in the context of the film. However, the most memorable turn comes from the late Sam Shepard as Stark, whose surprising complexities and human messiness will be revealed over time. Nina Arianda also has some interesting moments as the unfortunate journalist.

Cinematographer Sebastian Winterø gives the film an ominously beautiful look that suits its Lynchian and Hitchcockian influences. Nonetheless, we cannot help wondering what the film could have been like if it had been helmed by producer Pang Ho-cheung, especially given the madness of his HK slasher Dream Home (there is a film that had no problems committing). Frustrating and ultimately disappointing, Never Here is only for hardcore fans of Robbe-Grillet novels and sinister-looking art films, when it opens tomorrow (10/20) in New York, at the Cinema Village.