Disturbing events lead an artist who photographs strangers to suspect that someone out there is watching HER. Boundaries blur between real and imaginary, crime and art, the watcher and the watched.
Prior to the screening and during the Q&A following the screening, writer/director Camille Thoman described Never Here (which held its World Premiere at this year’s LA Film Fest) as a combination of a “whodunit” and a “who am I?”
And that perfectly describes what her film – which is essentially a crime mystery mixed with a psychological thriller and which almost secretly becomes (as it goes along) an intense character study as the main character falls into despair, confusion and a harrowing mystery – both internally and outwardly.
Miranda Fall (Mireille Enos) is a performance artist in New York City who follows random strangers – creating bold installations which wow critics and which keep her art dealer Paul Stark (Sam Shepard) coming back for more. But her latest project – based on a lost cell phone she found and the contents of which she exploited – has angered the phone’s owner. The evening of this particular show’s opening, Stark witnesses a brutal attack outside of Miranda’s window. Seeing potential for a new art project, Miranda is the one who goes to the police, offering up descriptions of the offender and recounting what she “saw”. Thus begins the mystery as someone takes interest in Miranda’s comings and goings, while Miranda herself falls (note her last name) into some sort of inner battle with her past, her present and her own identity.
The film has elements which reminded me of both DePalma (the twisty-turns of the story as well as the Sisters-esque identity crisis Miranda faces – no, she’s not a twin) and Polanski (the slow-moving camera and the almost constant movement of the audience’s head – trying to peek around the corners of rooms in the shot – since the camera’s not moving fast enough). But as the moderator of the Q&A said to writer/director Thoman, “You have a distinct voice”. Indeed, Thoman is a unique new filmmaker – taking her own personal history in performance art and bringing it to the cinema.
The aforementioned moderator for the Q&A (who was also one of LA Film Fest’s programmers) said that when she and her cohorts were discussing potential placement of Never Here in the festival, that all five of the committee members said about the film’s ending, “I totally know what happened – what was being said.” And as it turns out, each of these five interpretations were completely different.
I bring this up because Never Here offers few solid answers at the film’s conclusion. It’s one of those films which allows you to walk out of the theatre and discuss at great length with your fellow audience members – about what just happened.
The film’s secret weapon is Emmy and Golden Globe nominee Mireille Enos (World War Z) – who brings so many levels of emotion to Miranda – you’ll almost lose sight of the winding journey the story takes you on – because you’ll be engaged by what Enos does in her performance and what Miranda as a character must endure. Enos is so easy to watch as an actor – because there’s an inherent ease in what she does on-screen. Pay particular attention to Miranda’s first date with Andy Williams (Vincent Piazza) – a police detective and one of Miranda’s long-ago high school friends. They meet in a bar on Halloween – and as they innocently flirt and drink, I marveled at that “ease” mentioned above. Enos is engaging and even in these lighter moments – interesting and true. On the other side of the emotional coin, Enos must engage in a different way. As Miranda plunges into the confusion of these moments of her life, Enos must pull every trick she can find out of her acting bag. And she does so with that same honesty. She cries, she sulks, she’s frightened. And her best acting moment also happens to be Shepard’s. In a scene at Stark’s home, she’s desperately come to him, because she believes she’s in danger. Stark’s also dealing with some heavy s***, and so there’s a mutual breakdown and it’s a great scene for both of them.
In performance as well as camerawork – my favorite scene finds Miranda in the police interrogation room. As the camera slowly closes in on Enos’ emotional face, she responds with “yes” and “no” and not much more. In what could have been a very simply shot and acted scene – it offers tension and the chance for Enos to just react. I was reminded of the symphony sequence in the brilliant Nicole Kidman film Birth – where it was nothing but Kidman’s character thinking – no dialogue, just her mental gears going at top speed. And as a whole the striking atmosphere of Never Here was reminiscent of Birth – which is one of the most underrated thriller/dramas of the 21st century. So take that lovely comparison as an ultimate compliment.
Now, I’ll be honest. I like when things are wrapped up with conclusive final moments. While I don’t need to be spoon-fed, I want a little something more. In the case of Never Here – I did want some additional details from the filmmakers to further cement my own thoughts – but admittedly, that’s not the point of the piece.
The film is a solid 2-hour experience. And that leaves me quite torn. It’s definitely as slow a burn as a movie can get, but it’s certainly never dull. But I also think there could have been a few trims to tighten things – but this extended look into Miranda’s mental decay is necessary to get a full picture of where her mind is. So again – for pacing issues, I wanted it to be a tighter, but for character development and really taking its time to explore Miranda – it’s right on. I guess I can never be happy.
I’ve been putting off this review since we screened the film several days ago. And it’s been a pleasure to let the film linger on the palette – allowing the ideas and the images to ferment and grow and solidify.
But even with this extra time, I still have a few questions which remain. So if you like to imprint your own ideas on a film experience – Never Here leaves a lot wide open – so make your own determinations.
However, the things which are not open for debate: Never Here is technically well done in every aspect of design, beautifully shot and performed and full of transfixing tension.
The film is above all else – a fascinating character journey with an in-depth and very memorable performance from Mireille Enos. It’s also a sleekly produced and tightly-woven mystery surrounded by an inside look into the art world.
Never Here was acquired by Vertical Entertainment on the eve of its premiere at LA Film Fest and is scheduled for release sometime in the fourth quarter of 2017. So stay tuned.