A private investigator reads a book of sinister origins and unknowingly puts his daughter and himself in a fight for their lives...and their eternal souls.
July 18th, 2017
William B. Davis
I’ve never claimed to be the sharpest tack in the cookie jar – or however that saying goes.
And so I may not be able to quite explain what I just saw or what exactly happened in the new indie horror/sci-fi/neo-noir film Residue, but I definitely can tell you I enjoyed it… whatever “it” is.
In the not-so-distant future, private eye Luke Harding (one of Residue’s producers, James Clayton) does odd jobs for shady characters – notably Mr. Fairweather (veteran character actor Matt Frewer) in an attempt to make ends meet. He dreams of working for a bigger crime-figure in the form of Mr. Lamont (The X-Files’ William B. Davis). When a book (covered in the titular black slime) of violent and supernatural powers lands in his lap after a job goes bad, Harding becomes obsessed with the tome, which manipulates his mind, makes him lose time and memory and creates hallucinatory paranoia. Add into this the arrival of Harding’s estranged young daughter Angelina (Taylor Hickson) and a burgeoning romance with his landlord Monica (Arrow’s Elysia Rotaru) and this private dick really has his hands full. Ahem.
The film is part comedy, part supernatural horror mixed in with a heaping helping of Lovecraftian-gooiness and cosmic weirdness. The fact that is starts out as a throwback to the old detective stories of the Bogart-era – is what really sets it apart.
I enjoyed all of the performances, with the exception of the most prominent one – Clayton’s. I get that he was probably going for the smooth-talking, cigarette-smoking tough guy to perfectly fit the bill of this shady noir-homage. But I never bought it, and it felt too “put-on”. And I was absolutely not a fan of the voice-over narration. If anything, that voice-over simply highlighted some of the dialogue which was less-than. The feeling that Clayton was always keeping in line with the cool essence of “the detective” character, never allowed him to properly emote – and in that, he never allowed us to genuinely join Harding’s journey. He’s a good-looking guy and a decent actor, but his choices here were a miss. And that is the biggest problem you’ll encounter while watching Residue.
As Angelina, Hickson doesn’t have a ton of screen-time, but she’s a whiz with emotion and perfect “Dad, you’re so embarrassing” line deliveries. I would have liked a bit more history for the character, but Hickson definitely sold all that she was given.
Supporting performances were all pretty solid. Davis is a great bad guy (we already have 9 seasons of The X-Files to prove that he can pull off a role like this) and Frewer does a fine job of being an overly-emotional (if terribly-cliched) crime boss.
And I was delighted by the supporting performance from Linda Darlow as Mrs. Oats – a busybody in Harding’s apartment complex. She brings the perfect amount of nosy neighbor (a la Mrs. Kravitz of Bewitched). And then things in the character’s life go downhill, she brings the hysterical wackiness as well. A very memorable bit role.
I was very appreciative of all the of the film’s technical achievements. The score was engaging but never distracting. And with so many well done Minority Report-esque visual effects – it’s very clear that the time of this story is a bit further along in our technological advances.
I also appreciated the cinematography. The drone (so overused by so many filmmakers in recent years) was used just enough, and it appropriately set the mood. It wasn’t used because the filmmakers simply had access. It actually worked within the story. And I loved the editing when an important flashback was introduced and then revisited numerous times.
Make-up and gore effects were pulled off with aplomb (the “other version” of Angelica was uber-creepy). And one particular effect (pictured above) was not only brilliantly disgusting, but the fact that we keep returning to it (for what is a weird and surreal reason) never lets us forget it.
Also, the fight choreography in an early sequence is impressively realistic and genuinely exciting.
The film’s sense of humor (it all fit perfectly with the film as a whole) was most apparent when spending time with Lamont’s two bumbling underlings, Boston and Jacob (Michael Matic and the Saw franchise’s Costas Mandylor; respectively), who take up residence in the apartment next to Harding’s to keep an eye on things. As the effects of the book seep out of Harding’s apartment, these two begin to exhibit bizarre behavior as well. A face-time conversation with Lamont is an easy highlight.
And when Harding must awkwardly question a potential suitor of Angelica, you’ll simply love the genuine reactions to this inquisition.
And with that – believe it or not, there’s a heart to this film. The father-daughter relationship between Harding and Angelica has a decent emotional impact, but I could have used more. There are only a handful of scenes between them where it doesn’t revolve around Harding’s distantness (he’s obsessed with the book) and sort of throw-away lines. But their initial scene together is lovely and awkward and telling. I just wish there was a chance for more of this regular old teenage daughter/protective father back and forth.
At a spry 82 minutes, it still takes just a tad too long to get underway. You have to wade through the mush of the overdone narration before you’ll get to the good meat of the story – at which point, that narration becomes less distracting. Again, I get what the filmmakers are trying to do, but this voice-over never completely rings true.
And I have to ask – perhaps you will too – in the last moment between Angelica and Lamont, what does she ask him? Inquiring minds want to know.
A strong majority of good performances, a whirlwind tour through the whack-job timeline and great production values, Residue is something you’ll gladly allow to “stick” around in your movie-going memories. And like the viscosity and adhesiveness of the title substance – this film will probably hang around for a while, perhaps making its way to a cult favorite. Not perfect, but plenty to recommend.
Just bring your antibacterial wipes… and a lot of them.
Residue is scheduled for VOD release on July 18th, 2017.