Dir: Sam Barrett
Starring: James Helm, Karen Barrett, Ben Brown, Arielle Gray
Esoterica is a film that I think will strike some people as being rather odd within the first 10 minutes. It kind of is if you aren’t too sure what it is about, but if you are a film noir fan you’ll no doubt fall right into the film.
It is a mystery and that is exactly how it begins, we get thrown into the mix almost blindfolded and we have to sort out the pieces along with the characters. A private eye of sorts Will (James Helm) takes on an assignment to catch his client’s cheating husband in the act. He hides in the closet (Reminiscent of Blue Velvet) to catch them in the act and is surprised to see that a former acquaintance of his Nancy (Melanie Munt) is the other woman. But there is no time for playing as they quickly get locked into a crazy turn of events including a case of mistaken identity, with a child’s life hanging in the balance. Nothing is as it seems …
That should be enough to get you by with the film, it helps to be in the dark about the plot because it is interesting to see it unfold, but a bit of information helps. The look of the film might catch people off guard, it isn’t exactly in black and white but the colour has been mostly washed out. It aims to give it that classic noir feel, but keeping it updated. The music is also somewhat noir classic but with a mixture of a modern texture. It is an impressive feel, and it contains one of the most interesting and visually delightful credit sequences I have seen for quite some time. It is a really strong film on a visual level, and I was really impressed with the balance that was found.
The acting here is very mixed, some of it is good and quite solid and some of it not so much. This I found was a bit of a weak spot, and when someone had an unconvincing scene it actually really took me out of the moment. Our leads James Helm and Melanie Munt were pretty solid and they both did a good job with their roles. They were certainly more hit than miss, unlike George Shevtsov who was very unbalanced as Det. Jack Van Cleef. His role is very interesting and really well written but I felt he struggled with it. There were some scenes and moments that were truly laughable and others that were brilliant. Not sure what the problem was with him, but it was uneven. The supporting cast either work or they don’t, some didn’t feel entirely comfortable with it.
Esoterica is a really well written and directed film; it is something different for Australian cinema and certain deserves to be seen. It is unfortunate that some of the acting lets it down, but if you can look through that, it is entertaining. The central mystery will keep you guessing, and it certainly remains engaging throughout. It is an impressive effort in a genre that is one of the most difficult to pull off.
The Australian DVD:
The DVD I reviewed was a screener, so I am unable to comment on Picture/Audio quality.
DVD details here.
Thanks to Bill care of Accent Film for the copy.