Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Touched: The Things That Haunt Us

This is why we have to pay last month’s rent whenever we move into a new apartment. One of Gabriel Tillman’s tenants has disappeared under mysterious circumstances, but he just can’t let it go. Unfortunately, the socially stunted landlord is completely unsuited for amateur sleuthing in Karl R. Hearne’s Touched (trailer here), which opens this Friday in Toronto.

Tillman is not good with people, but it is not his fault. Apparently, he had a difficult childhood that he will probably never fully recover from. Nevertheless, he was able to plug along as a super, eventually inheriting the building when the owner died. Alas, he is afraid the missing Caitlyn has also shuffled off the mortal coil, but he failed to adequately investigate when he had a chance. Tillman already fears the worst when he starts to be haunted by visions, hallucinations, or the actual ghost of a young girl, who may in fact be Caitlyn, or rather a younger version of herself.

Routine is important for Tillman. Every Friday he visits the same bakery to buy a fresh-baked loaf of brown bread. Gumshoe snoopery could be unhealthy for him in more ways than one, but he still starts tracing her previous whereabouts. It turns out they might have abusive childhoods in common. Tillman could also be losing his grasp on reality, but even if he is, she still could very well be the victim of foul play.

“Haunting” is indeed the right word for Touched. It is a subtle and frequently ambiguous film, but its truths ring with crystal clarity. Frankly, it makes a strong case genre cinema is better equipped than straight, preachy melodrama to deal with some subject matter, because of the flexibility and latitude the [possible] fantastical elements provide.

Regardless, Hugh Thompson is absolutely riveting as Tillman, despite the quiet, low-key nature of his breakout performance. You can just feel the depth of his emotional pain and ill-ease. It really is some remarkably assured work. Chimwemwe Miller also nicely grounds the film with his humanistic portrayal of the unnamed bakery clerk, which sounds like a nothing-part, but is actually quite significant.

Touched is truly a delicately calibrated film. If it had been a few degrees off in any respect, it could have been a tonal train-wreck (or at least a big “so what?”), but Hearne gets the balance just right. As a result, the film really sticks in viewers’ heads, haunting them, so to speak. Very highly recommended, Touched opens this Friday (11/16) in Toronto, at the Carlton Cinema.