FUGUE **** Canada 2018 Dir: Tomas Street. 93 mins.
Tagline: “Who do you think you are?”
Just because a film is an independent production with a limited cast and a small cast doesn’t mean that it also can be a taunt surprising thriller. I was thoroughly impressed by this film, and credit certainly goes to Tomas Street for his handling of this material. Independent filmmakers: this is an excellent example of what can be done when you know your material and take a more cerebral approach. Not that there isn’t some violent imagery but knowing when to cut away is a wise move.
Fugue: a period of amnesia which the affected person seems to be conscious and make rational decisions, yet upon recovery remembers nothing of the period.
The film begins innocuously enough with a man named Malcolm (Jack Foley) waking in a bed in the middle of the afternoon. He seems to be off somehow, and his manner appears to be disturbed. He doesn’t seem to know where he is, and he looks in the closet with apparent apprehension. He gets dressed, but things still seem off. The lights in the hall make an odd buzzing sound and the man rubs his head as if it hurts. The soundtrack is relatively silent which only increases the apprehension. The house is hushed, and it appears to be immaculate as if no one actually lived there.
The man looks around and it is apparent that he is uncomfortable. A woman arrives and she tells the man that she is Helen (Laura Tremblay), his wife. Helen reassures Malcolm that he has a certain type of amnesia brought about through a car accident. She recounts some various details of his life, but she seems purposely vague. She tells him that the doctor has prescribed some medication and that he needs to take them every two hours. Malcolm seems for the most part to accept this explanation. I kept thinking that I would be asking a lot more questions than he is, but that’s the way the narrative is written. As the old saying goes, the devil is in the details and the overall appearance of the house seems to be an obvious clue, but to what? We are left to feel as puzzled as Malcolm is and the emotional effect is not an enjoyable experience.
Malcolm takes a shower and again we are shown that he has some apparent discomfort involving his head. Malcolm comes out of the shower to see his wife chatting with a visitor. The visitor is named Ian (Mike Donis) and he is re-introduced as an old friend of Malcolm’s, even though Malcolm is unsure of exactly who Ian is. The three begin chatting and various memories are brought up. Helen is wary of Ian reminding Malcolm of distant events from his past because the doctor has warned her about this. Ian tells Malcolm some hairy dog story involving a trip to see a country music concert and a fight, but that only leaves Malcolm wondering just exactly what type of man he was. This is an interesting way to start the film but we, as the audience, are wondering exactly where this is leading us. Street as a director displays some well controlled abilities and the small bits of information, he feeds us is exactly what he needs to do. We feel off kilter and are forced to identify with Malcolm and his current situation.
Later that night, Malcolm is awoken by Helen, who tells him that there are intruders in the house. Helen directs Malcolm to retrieve the gun that is secured in the floor safe in the closet, but surprise, he can’t recall the numbers to open it. While huddled in the bottom of the closet, two masked and armed men appear and they threaten Helen, if Malcom doesn’t open the safe and give them what’s inside. The men are wearing black ski masks and their voices have been altered by some type of device; they certainly appear to be menacing and frightening. Suddenly Malcolm’s body memory takes off and he unleashes a brutal attack on one of the men; the other man quickly hits Malcom on the head from behind and he blacks out. The screen goes dark signifying an end to act one.
The film plays with time in a casual but thought out manner. We see the two characters, but things are different. There is no mention of any accident, there isn’t any type of head injury indicated, and get this, the wife is a completely different actress! Her name is Patrice (Kristen Da Silva) and her entire manner is different. Malcom seems like the same person that we were introduced to earlier, but now we are supplied some clues that gradually begins to fill in some of the unshaded areas. Malcolm is strung a tad higher. He is seen attempting to quit smoking and Patrice sort of nags him about the nasty habit. Whereas Helen was completely loving and kind, Patrice seems more authentic and the couple’s relationship appears to be slightly strained. Also, they have a son named Samuel (Evan Siemann). Malcolm is nervous and he repeatedly asks Patrice if she told anyone that they were there. Now the picture seemingly shifts. The house is not their own. Patrice refers to the fact that they aren’t in the city and that it is due to Malcom’s job that they are where they are. Without revealing major spoilers, I will say that Act III completes the puzzle, filling in all the blanks and tells us the complete story.
Fugue was a winner in the Indican20K Film Initiative, a 2016 program that awarded a maximum of twenty thousand dollars to a first-time feature filmmaker. Things to notice: small cast, tight script, action is contained to within the house for the most part, no CGI, or special effects. First time film makers should definitely study this film for an excellent primer on how to prepare a film with limited funding and effects. This is an outstanding film, and I was certainly impressed in both the quality and the performances. Yes, there are a few small details that were bothersome, but that is strictly nit picking, and I choose to disregard them.
If you are looking for a well-made thriller, then look no further. Fugue is certainly a winner in my book and more people need to see it.
Review by Robert Segedy