A painter's life is forever changed when a mythical and deadly spirit from Celtic lore -- a Leannán Sí -- becomes his muse and lover.
Lou Ferrigno, Jr.
Muse is a new indie horror/thriller from writer/director John Burr.
With echoes of Ron Howard’s Splash, of all things – it’s the tale of a struggling painter named Adam who – through several contrived events – manages to find his artistic muse… in the form of a beautiful, mystical creature, played by Elle Evans. As his career begins to soar, it becomes clear that the muse’s influence is to credit. But her absolute and over-protective loyalties will lead to murder. So the question becomes, how will Adam’s morals be challenged by the sudden and sweet smell of success?
I’ll first shower the film with the praise it so rightfully deserves, but then – unfortunately I’ll have to also discuss the bevy of negatives – which the film also contains.
The film looks good. Director John Burr and his team have a firm grasp of camera movement and lighting. I could have done without some of the slow motion montages (of which there are many) – but otherwise it’s thoughtfully shot, artfully lit – with terrific locations and a filled-out supporting cast of many extras – all lending a quality of realism.
The art gallery where Adam finds success and the very urban lofts where he lives – really offer up a gritty vision of city life and the meager and lonely existence of a struggling artist.
But these lovely technical achievements are where most of the positive things will end.
There’s never a build – either in action or in character development. The film meanders, never getting the audience on board – and then it’ll experience pacing issues. It’s a slow burn, and not in the good way. Adam doesn’t have much of a journey. He feels very reactive. And in a protagonist – you need a driving force.
It also never embraces its art-house film potential. Not that I’m a fan of art-house per se, but if a film is straddling art house and slasher and psychological horror – it begins to feel like the big problem is a lack of solid tone.
A couple of the supporting performances are decent, but I wasn’t impressed with Riley Egan as the lead. I don’t necessarily fault him as a performer – I think that the script failed him. The journey to success for the character isn’t strong enough, isn’t built up with any verve and with the exception of one moment where he takes glee in this new-found power, there’s only one level.
Egan barely raises his voice in more heightened situations. I get that the character is something of a wall-flower and devoid of any confidence, but it’s not enough to grab the viewer and get them on his side. And when we do see the slightest glimmers of change and slight confidence boosts – it’s intriguing, but just not enough.
As art dealer Valerie, Jennie Fahn has an Andrea Martin (of SCTV and Black Christmas) quality, which I find very engaging. The character’s not well fleshed-out, but her time on-screen is a great deal of fun. Fahn has the unenviable task of delivering a lot of exposition (mostly the explanation of the origins of “the muse”), but she manages to make it work.
As neighbor and potential love interest Maria, Kate Mansi has an engaging smile, and a natural “it” quality on-screen. I don’t feel as though the character was terribly well-drawn (like the character of Valerie above), falling into a secondary and somewhat cliched role as a battered woman/love interest. But she makes lemonade out of lemons, and delivers one of the stronger performances in the film.
I have to call out a similar film – which examines the descent into madness of a struggling artist. In this case, it’s a painter. In Aronofsky’s superior Black Swan – it’s ballet dancing. Where that film truly dug deep and ended on a tragic, suspenseful and memorable note – Muse never scratches more than the surface of the psychology beneath the neurotic artist. It doesn’t quite get there. It never feels accessible – for artistic types, or for the more general public.
If you’re looking at this from an artist’s perspective, it doesn’t grab you. As artists, we can all sympathize with self-doubt and “finding the muse”. For the general public watching this – I don’t think it’ll come across as anything more than a sort of loser who can’t take control of his life… so the film doesn’t properly engage anyone, it seems.
There’s a scene later on in the film which had sparkling promise (mentioned above) – something which should have been developed earlier and put to use throughout the entire film. But again – that might have messed with the film’s perceived wish to be an art-house film.
The cold opening is particularly odd. It sets up a semi-necessary connection, but it then begs the question: Did these throw-away characters in the film’s opening have a connection to the muse (thus making more sense of their inclusion here), or did fate intervene in order to introduce the muse to Adam? It’s not explained (maybe it doesn’t need to be), but these two characters in the beginning of the film felt like filler.
There was a continuity error which left me a little puzzled. It’s shown that Maria has a black eye (for reasons I won’t disclose here) and then it disappears and then reappears in subsequent scenes.
Lou Ferrigno, Jr. appears in a supporting role as one of Adam’s competing artists.
So few pictures manage to truly work in a multi-tonal platform – and Muse was not able to accomplish this rarely-achieved feat. It didn’t feel as though there was a clear idea of what it truly wanted to be. With a slasher-film chase scene, some pieces lifted from your favorite erotic revenge thriller and with camerawork not out of place in a genuine art-house flick – the film lacks cohesion.
Where something like Black Swan is an unflinching exploration of an artist’s neuroses, Muse toys with it, has glimpses of genuine character drama – but ultimately can’t decide what it wants, and so this frightening internal look just doesn’t succeed.
Muse is still on the festival circuit. It showed at this year’s Filmquest in Provo, Utah marking its US premiere.