Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Diane: Like Laura, but Grungier

Steven Warren is a lot like Dana Andrews in Laura, but he is also struggling with PTSD, as well as an impossible crush. It is hard to blame the Afghanistan veteran for obsessing over Diane Faye, because her body was found in his yard. Maybe the interest is not completely one-sided either, since the dead woman might possibly be communicating with him through dreams and visions, but they become increasingly sinister in Michael Mongillo’s Diane (trailer here), which opens this Friday in Los Angeles.

Right, Warren just woke up one morning and found the late Faye in his yard. First thing he did was take a picture on his phone. Then he called the police. For some reason, they are determined to rake him over the coals, but there is nothing linking her and Warren, except the obvious. It is too bad he lives in Connecticut rather than New York City, because the NYPD would probably have more respect for a combat veteran. Frankly, the New London coppers are almost as bad as his jerkheel neighbors, but they will be totally bored and frustrated staking out his house.

It might not look like Warren is doing much, but inside, he is starting to lose it in a big way. Even he is confused by the way Faye is twisting up his thoughts. Yet, in a weird, totally messed up kind of way, she spurs Warren to reassert control over some aspects of his sad, mopey life, albeit from beyond the grave, or as a delusional figment.

This is a hard film to write up, for dozens of reasons, starting off with the tricky business of classifying just what exactly it is. Diane has played at a number of horror festivals, but it is unlikely to scare any genre fans. Yet, it has some supernatural imagery that will give the Heisman to anyone hoping for a procedural or a domestic thriller. It is definitely dark, but its moodiness is even more pronounced. It is important to understand Mongillo does not merely use PTSD as an exploitative device. It is really at the core of what this film is all about, along with guilt, loneliness, and obsession.

So, doesn’t that sound like fun? Yet, Diane still has some interesting white picket thriller stuff going on. Jason Alan Smith and Carlee Avers are also quite compelling as Warren and Faye, which helps a lot. Mongillo tries to make a virtue out necessity, doubling down on the film’s grungy, purchased-from-Salvation Army look and vibe, with mostly positive results. Regardless, it is another reason why Diane requires viewers to work with it, more than a little.

There are rough edges all over Diane, but it is still a hard film to shake off. It is also tricky to pass critical judgment on it. I would not hesitate to recommend it to colleagues who see dozens of films each week, because they should be able to appreciate what makes it distinctive and different. However, consumers who only see a few movies a month, often featuring people wearing capes, will most likely be put off by its betwixt-and-between natures, as well as its ultra-DIY production values. You know who you are, so considered yourself advised. For more receptive genre patrons, Diane opens this Friday (9/7) in LA, at the Arena Cinelounge.