Review: “The Final Obsession” (2015)
An indie filmmaker’s first production, like the first story by an indie author or the first musical offering by a singer-songwriter, is a difficult one to judge. On the one hand, there is a lot riding on that first effort. A lot of work, time, and often the creative’s own money (as well as that of family and friends) has gone into it. There’s ego at stake, with the danger of an injury to one’s own self-image and self-esteem. Moreover, in the case of a film, a lot of other people have participated in the production and have a stake in it themselves. On the other hand, viewers have certain expectations of a new release from a new filmmaker. First, they are going to compare it to all the other films that they have already seen, especially those in the same genre and those that deal with the same general topic. They expect certain production values. Second, they are often not going to be very patient with perceived flaws, especially when they run throughout the film. Finally, they are likely to judge the filmmaker based on this one release, rather than on the potential that he or she demonstrates in it.
Which brings me to the most recent short film for which I was requested to do an honest and fair review. “The Final Obsession” is the first indie short from its writer-director-DP-editor, Adam Theroux. From his four-part title, it is clear that Theroux did the lion’s share of the work on this production. On the film’s website, he relates that it grew out of his love for “horror, thrillers, comedy and yes, Lifetime movies.” His plot summary provides some insight into that last influence he names:
Rebecca Hughes [Wensday Greenbaum] has a beautiful house in the suburbs, a loving husband, and a thriving career as the star of such made-for-TV movies as Seductive Teacher and Mother Won’t Allow. Jacoby Laprocina [Dan White] is the world’s leading expert on her films, daily routine, and the activities of her loved ones. Rebecca’s life begins to mirror her art as she comes face to face with betrayal, violence, and the one who loves her most of all. Will the queen of the small screen be able to survive her biggest fan’s affections, or will this be The Final Obsession?
Although the celebrity stalker film is well-trod territory, this summary nevertheless sounds interesting. Another thing that it sounds like is a serious horror-thriller (and the trailer — see below — makes it look like one). What both do not let on is that this is actually a comedy — or rather, a film that cannot decide whether it is a horror-thriller or a campy comedy.
Where it succeeds, I believe, is as a campy comedy. Both the Lifetime-style films in which Rebecca stars and the stalker-thriller subgenre get some good satirical treatment. However, there are times — particularly the film’s third act — where it seems that Theroux wants us to take the film as a serious horror-thriller, not as a comedy.
The latter option, unfortunately, just does not work. There is already too much camp in the film to veer into seriousness at its end. For example, White first plays his character as a comic loser and doofus, not as a frightening, insane, obsessive stalker, as he does later in the film. Meanwhile, Greenbaum plays her character, Rebecca, straight throughout, as if she really is a minor star beset with all the problems that can go with that status — philandering husband, obsessive stalker, friends that are worshipful and others that are a bit two-faced. The rest of the cast follows suit. This is not to fault White so much as to point out a flaw in direction. Theroux needed to keep his cast on the same page as far as tone and genre. However, this is a rookie mistake that can be chalked up to inexperience.
So what is there to like about this film? A number of things, actually. The film has a strong opening that sets up the fictional side of Rebecca’s experience, one that her real life will come to mirror. Theroux’s writing, camera work, and editing are strong. Aside from a rather awkwardly done post-production special effect (blood from a gunshot wound in the first scene) and a slap that is out of sync with its sound, the production values here are fairly decent. Turning to the cast, Alexander Platt is deliciously slimy as Rhyse, Rebecca’s cheating husband.
All in all, this is a good first effort on a shoestring budget and with very few crew members to help out. There is promise in this short and its writer-director. It will be interesting to see what Theroux does next in his filmmaking career.