Watching can be deadly
Never Here is the narrative debut from writer and director Camille Thoman, and is a genre-bending thriller striving to explore a state of psychological crisis within the framework of a whodunit mystery.
The film’s protagonist, Miranda Fall (deftly played by The Killing’s Mireille Enos), is an artist preparing for the opening of her new installation The Cell Phone, a result of her probing into the life of the owner of a cell phone she finds in the street. As she tells journalist Margeret Lockwood (Nina Arianda), she takes her inspiration from chance and circumstance, having used the phone’s GPS history and contacts to create an intimate portrayal of a stranger. Only the stranger himself, Arthur Anderton (David Greenspan), seems to see it more as an invasion of his privacy than a transgressive act of art. Not that Miranda seems to mind. When the exhibit is vandalised, she tells the gallery employees to leave it as is, set up perimeters around the broken glass and canvasses. This blurring of the line between art and reality is a constant fascination for Miranda.
When her dealer and lover, Paul Stark (Sam Shepard), witnesses a man attack a woman in the street below he refuses to involve the police. Miranda files the report instead, using Paul’s description of the assailant and delivers his ‘lines’ as if she were an actor performing the role. When she’s brought in to view a line up – where she can obviously be of no help – and recognises one of the men from somewhere, she follows him home and he quickly becomes her next project. This man, who she calls S (Goran Visjnic), turns into an obsession. Reassured by the fact that the police have caught the actual attacker, Miranda follows S, tracks his movements, even breaks into his apartment. Meanwhile, Miranda’s life is beginning to unravel: things seem to be moved in her flat, her dog is acting strange, she may even be losing time.
Things only become more complicated. Every question seems only to lead to another question, while the film’s layering of art over reality, and reality over art, creates a visual space where identity and truth become fluid. Miranda, photographing herself in S’s apartment wearing his clothing. Miranda, repeating not only her lover Paul’s words but his inflections to exact precision. Miranda, who has made a career out of invading personal spaces, finding her own spaces have been violated. Are these the inevitable consequences of Miranda’s choices, or has she become an unwitting pawn in a psychopath’s game? We don’t know, but Enos does an excellent job of portraying someone as ethically ambivalent as Miranda while still maintaining intimacy and eliciting sympathy.
Beautifully shot by Sebastian Wintero, Never Here is visually compelling in its depiction of Miranda’s slow distancing from reality. Thoman’s appreciation of both Hitchcock and Lynch is evident in the film’s style and pacing, as it slowly builds up the elements of mystery and balances the weird with the beautiful, but the film is at times too subtle for its own good. Thoman says she wanted to “genre-bend a classic Hitchcockian suspense mystery (Whodunit?) with a harrowing journey into disintegration of identity (Who Am I?)”, but ultimately the film falls short of accomplishing these goals – in attempting to ask both questions, it succeeds in answering neither.
Still, there is a great deal in Never Here which makes it worth watching – excellent performances, compelling visuals and many questions that bear asking (like what responsibility does an artist have to their subject?) – and as a first narrative feature, it is an impressive work.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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