August 4, 2014 (Web Series)
Gaby Hoffmann as Leah
Ingrid Jungermann as June
Kim Allen as Taylor
Rebecca Street as Karen
Michael Che as Threes
There’s something special about a micro budget picture that defies all fiscal odds and really impresses. Stewart Thorndike’s first feature length (well, close to it) film, Lyle is an inspired piece of work that calls on the memory of features like Rosemary’s Baby. It’s dark, conniving work that slowly begins burrowing, and finds itself deep under the viewers’ skin by the time the screen goes black. There are no explosions here. No elongated cartoonish grimaces. Furniture doesn’t levitate and knives don’t sail through the air. There’s absolutely nothing here in the way of fluff. That looks to be as much a monetary issue as a personal preference, but it really doesn’t matter. The film jars, that’s what counts. A real chill lasts infinitely longer than the lingering effects of a jump scare.
The story isn’t original. That much can be said without killing any surprises. It is however, exactly the kind of story that can shine without a few hundred million dollars in the budget column. A quality filmmaker can play this story bare bones and still create something unnerving. A little stylization (or even arthouse bravery) with the cinematography, a few strong performers and a director who knows exactly what kind of a film he (or she) intends to make and this story can please, time and again. And that’s essentially what we have here, a not-so-original but generally well-shot (crafty at times) pic with a clear head behind the camera and appropriately emotional ones in front of it. It’s just a really effective project that was probably assembled by a crew fueled not by sleep or sustenance, but passion exclusively. I can get behind that.
Seeing Gaby Hoffmann in a genre piece was interesting. In fact, it’s been years since I spotted in her much of anything. But she’s still as talented as she was when she was a squirt making movies like Uncle Buck, Field of Dreams and a few years later, Now and Then. Nowadays she’s just a bit more intense. And she receives some solid output to work off. Ingrid Jungermann is impressive as her distant lover June. Kim Allen is fairly believable as the model next door, Taylor and Rebecca Street may want to really examine her work and figure out just why she’s so uncomfortably believable in the shoes of an insane woman. This is the kind of support a lead longs for. Outside of Michael Che’s performance (which was a bit too telegraphed for my personal liking), everyone puts forth strong showings. It’s most certainly a quality that helps push the film well beyond the gates of mediocrity.
Keep an eye out for some very interesting decisions made by writer/director Stewart Thorndike. You’ll notice atypical technical decisions in motion, like holding the cam rather tripoding the rig for certain (not necessarily all) stationary shots. The decision to hold shots and drag them out as long as possible, building the tension a la prime John Carpenter. The stark color contrast that ultimately toys with the mind in a unique and almost undetectable manner. The haunting but noticeably thin score. There are just some really compelling things going on here that a casual movie viewer may not see. Those obsessed with filmmaking however, are about to get an hour that almost feels designed to be studied. And it’s a damn fine study, in my humble opinion. At just 65 minutes run time Lyle feels like a film that could have been nourished a tad further. And the truth is, it isn’t astoundingly remarkable. But it truly is unsettling. It is raw. In the end, it is grimy. It burns a little bit in your insides. There’s some messed up business going on in this flick, and the ensemble does as strong a job of selling it as Thorndike does directing it.