Saturday 22 September 2018

The limits of control: "Never Here"

To start out on a positive note: it's encouraging to know that our increasingly commercialised release schedules can still find room (albeit on just the one UK screen) for a leftfield oddity like Never Here, a notional thriller from writer-director Camille Thoman set on the spookier fringes of the Manhattan art scene. In a marketplace where audiences turned a collective nose up at the AI-enhanced killing machine of last month's Upgrade, Thoman's film is almost certainly doomed from a commercial perspective, but it's reassuring to think someone thought it worth taking a chance on. Mireille Enos (from the US redo of TV's The Killing) plays Miranda Fall, a Sophie Calle-like conceptual artist introduced at the opening of her new, acclaimed show, themed around the contents of a stranger's phone that she found lying in the street. Her own security comes under review after she and mentor-lover Paul (Sam Shepard, typically classy in his final screen appearance) witness a woman being attacked outside her apartment one night. The police prove no help whatsoever in tracing the assailant; Miranda's own investigations reveal only the limits of her creative control - and, alas, Thoman's limits, too. I say notional thriller, because the film displays the glacial-to-listless pacing and terminally off-kilter framing of shrug-worthy video art.

Everything put before us is slightly, deliberately off. Enos's unnerving smile, simultaneously pained and spaced out, is that of a woman coming around from extensive dental surgery; the supporting cast drift in and out of these sets in disconcerting ways; and Thoman puts weird emphases on props, signs and lines of dialogue, casting out so many red herrings that they start to obscure what she's actually getting at. Very soon, Never Here assumes the look of a failed experiment, the work of a filmmaker entering a new medium (Thoman comes from theatre) and determining to use every effect available to her over two hours of cinema. Artless zooms predominate, as do scenes that find the camera creeping up on the central character from various angles to doubly, triply, quadruply underline a point - this woman feels somebody's watching her - that has long been understood. (There's about 20-25 minutes' footage of the Enos nape, which even admirers would surely concede is too much.) It's a minor problem that the film never manages to escape its comfortably appointed boho bubble - that it is, in the end, very much a film about a celebrity artist who, in the middle of a loft renovation, comes to worry that someone's moved her chaise longue. It's a much bigger one that it should inhabit this space in such a heavyhanded, dully unengaging manner, without a trace of Calle's wit or playfulness.

Never Here is now playing at London's Prince Charles Cinema.

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