JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Fissure (Director: Ross Pond) - October 14, 2009


4 4
89 min.

Living life over again

Time travel, non-linear narrative, traumatic loss, unspoken love and pain-killer addiction all find their way into writer Nicholas Turner’s dramatic cauldron and wondrously congeal into a fascinating whole that deserves to be seen. Anyone who has ever wished to relive just one incident of their own personal storyline will come away hoping this fiction might one day soon come true.

Director/editor Russ Pond has assembled a commendable cast and first-rate crew. He is blessed with an outstanding performance from James MacDonald as Detective Paul Grunning. From the film’s opening group therapy session for those struggling to find a reason to keep living (Grunning’s recent moment in hell has mandated his attendance as a condition of further employment) to the closing whimsy while playing in the sand, MacDonald’s emotional range—fuelled by a palpable aura of bewilderment “nothing is making sense,” he exclaims while investigating a murder whose corpse won’t stay still—and body language deftly mine every ounce of characterization from the challenging role.

Adding much to the growing feeling of unease as a routine intruder-complaint turns deadly in the Ulster household (top-secret scientist Roger Ulster—Jim Blumetti—gets a bullet to his brilliant cranium before finishing his eggs) is Bryan E. Miller’s original score. Its constantly shifting mode is at one with the hero’s confusion and Peggy Baldwin’s haunting cello lines subliminally reinforce the depths of the rehabilitating cop’s pain and despair.

Also in the sprawling house, conveniently close to the military compound where the good doctor’s temporal experiments run their course, is wife Emma (Jane Willingham, appropriately dour as required) and son Andrew (Todd Haberkorn delights the camera but can’t find enough dark rebellion to move his pivotal plot points into the arena of complete credibility). A sultry grad student, Rachel (don’t miss Crystal Mantecon’s brief but sizzling hand-hold with the wary detective as he recovers from a mysteriously inflicted concussion), is the unwanted boarder (except by Roger who may or may not be examining much more than her thesis). “Everything was fine until she moved in.”

Living nearby and carrying the horrific weight of personal loss is Grunning’s desolate wife, Sarah (Scarlett McAlister). Their five-year-old son, Matty (Noah Podell), is no stranger to sudden calamities. Innocently, he helps drive Turner’s overarching study of the forever blurry lines between reality, fantasy and dreams.

The only reservations come in the form of a few untidy moments (Grunning announces his body search of the under-suspicion, jealous Emma but never even attempts a pat down) and weak dialogue (speaking on a cellphone to his unseen boss, the troubled investigator professionally blurts out precisely what type of assistance he requires only to be told seconds later to “tell me what you need” by his more-experienced superior) and the gradual diminishment of surprises as the story shifts into its final act.

Overall, the opening sequences, in the manner of Memento (cross-reference below), have some truly terrifying moments: the viewer becomes just as puzzled as Grunning, with some carefully set up (the clocks are not just set dressing) ahas! and especially skilful editing that feasts on the bounty of Alan LeFebvre’s inventive camera/filter techniques.

Simultaneously savouring the credits, thanks to Ryan Edgar’s thoughtful “We Become,” some will suddenly have an unexpected flashback to a few pages from their own screenplays and drift into a heady daydream where re-shooting a single scene could make life worth living again. JWR

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