This past weekend, I watched the dvd screener for Engagement; often, I wished I was watching it in a theater. This tightly-contained drama/thriller was such fun – a great example of solid acting, writing and direction combining to produce a fine work. I was very impressed by the skill and care put into this movie, and I was equally impressed by how well the filmmakers sold a story involving just 2 actors (3, if you include a phone voice).
The intro is a neat series of establishing shots that quickly define our one set – a two-story house with many rooms. These scenes don’t just set up the location, tho: you see the nice furniture, how organized and well-designed it all is, and you’ve already got a sense of who these people are. Better still, the limited location doesn’t feel like a budget constraint – it adds depth and credibility to the story and the characters’ behavior.
If anything, I was reminded of that indie masterpiece, Primer, in how the dialogue was both simple and clever, as well as the naturalistic delivery. This picture never loses focus, and doesn’t let you down…
So… what’s the actual story? After the credits, Henry proposes to Carolyn, and she breathlessly accepts. Soon after, she announces that her twin sister, Laura, needs to stay with them. Henry has never heard about this sibling, but Carolyn jedi mind-tricks him into thinking he’s been an inattentive, forgetful male. Just before Laura will arrive, Carolyn herself must go on a 3-4 week trip. And since Laura’s supposed to be the opposite of her twin, the audience will soon graduate from mere mind-tricks to the equivalent of a fight in a hall of mirrors.
I have a little affection for Andrew Perez as Henry. People might say he looks like a much less-cute version of me, as we have that same “I’m skinny but I work out” body type. His acting was very fine, and Henry has a real and distinct personality… Perez sells restlessness and focus nicely. He’s equally-fine when you see his creepy fascination with this mirror image of the woman he loves; it’s not right to stare, of course, but it would be hard not to wonder about “a copy” of someone you know so intimately.
Henry has a lot to do here – both in setting up his character, and providing a credible response to his situation. Plenty of people are successful and in stable relationships, even living with their significant other, yet can’t help but betray their trust, or become duped into the same.
Engagement plays on your unease. Is this all a game? Does Carolyn really have a twin? Who is fooling whom? And who’s playing mean, and why? Perez’s role plays the uncertainty of it all very nicely. A false step by him could’ve derailed the whole project. The carefully-limited setting helps, but I think he has skill, and it adds a lot.
As good as Andrew was, however, Erika Rankin floored me. For one thing, she played two roles beautifully; each sister is distinct and different, and she gave each part their own mannerisms and tone – it’s not like the only difference was their attitudes. For another thing, she’s simply gorgeous. Between her looks and her acting skill, I think it’s a crime to find such a short CV on her IMDb page. She should be in high demand, and I hope to see a lot more from her – and everyone else involved in this picture.
Engagement does a great job of confusing the viewer and keeping you off balance. As the story progresses, we’re not sure whether Carolyn or Henry is cracked in the head. These ideas are played out often, and to perfect effect. The ending itself is so open-ended that the audience can’t be sure what the hell really happened.
So what can I criticize? Well, Henry’s confusion and obsession become a little too heightened, a little too easily. A lot of thrillers and horror films require the characters to have overblown emotions – it requires a fine balance, and usually, a movie will fail because it can’t entertain the audience as much as it does confuse them. At the very least, even if you feel that Henry doesn’t completely earn the way he loses control, it’s not like you feel a lack of quality in the effort, and you will be entertained throughout.
I could also complain that the climax is too confusing, especially since the eventual climax isn’t set up quite as well as I would’ve hoped. The lack of clarity in the closing might leave you feeling like they’re playing games with you – and in a way that leaves you demanding more.
If it sounds like I’m judging too harshly, I’m just applying high standards to this cinematic artwork. It’s an incredibly tough standard, really, and it’s not to the discredit of Engagementthat it left me feeling just a little bit unsatisfied. It’s actually a compliment…
But life isn’t about feeling totally content, and this well-paced, well-acted, well-filmed movie has a lot to offer. Writer-director Jon Lefkovitz did a superb job, and I’m so happy that I chose to review this picture. I strongly suggest that you get yourself in gear and check this out asap. You won’t be disappointed.