By: Trevor Chartrand
As a film that explores the creative process, Ryan M. Andrews’ Art of Obsession fails to bring much originality to the table. This slow-paced, predictable little story takes itself too seriously, grasping aimlessly at faux-philosophical musings all along the way. The film is an unfortunate mix of unconvincing plot, passionless performances, and a non-existent visual style. It’s the kind of film I can still enjoy, however with a more ironic appreciation than the filmmakers would have intended.
Struggling writer Kennedy Sait (Ry Barrett) takes rejection hard after his latest novel is panned by critics. When his family are then tragically killed by a drunk driver, he turns to drugs and alcohol as his life spirals further out of control. It’s not until he meets his new neighbour, Patricia Bailey (Winny Clark), that he finds meaning and purpose again. Convinced she is his ‘muse,’ the troubled addict kidnaps Patricia, holding her hostage as his inspiration to continue writing his next masterpiece.
When combined with forced dialogue, the cringe-inducing acting really weighs down on the film. Art of Obsession teeters on the border of being laughably bad, especially with performances like Brian McDonald’s portrayal of Doug Bailey. His abusive and angry husband character comes across as stilted and weak – he seems mildly annoyed rather than the threatening, rage-fuelled menace he’s supposed to be. The worst offender though is Ry Barrett, who rarely emotes at all as Kennedy, the disturbed novelist. Instead, he drifts aimlessly from one scene to the next as if he’s been sedated. An early flirtation between Kennedy and a secretary really sets the tone for the rest of the movie: as the secretary recites her lines, she tries so hard to act ‘natural’ that every movement becomes calculated and artificial. Between this forced acting and the rough dialogue, Art of Obsession leaves much to be desired.
The poor performances are only made worse by bizarre post-production and pacing choices. Editor Chris Cull regularly favours gratuitous reaction shots that often feature characters staring each other down. These moments, intended to add silent tension, play more as awkward and uncomfortable. It appears as if the actors were unsure of what their director expected from them in the moment. There’s a great example of this in a scene with Detective Zimmer (Timothy Paul McCarthy), who already fails to intimidate with his performance as a mild mannered, soft-spoken police investigator. As Zimmer questions Kennedy about Patricia’s disappearance, Cull makes two bad performances even worse by cutting between the two uncomfortable-looking actors as they sit quietly and stare at each other. The intention is to make Zimmer appear suspicious and for Kennedy to look guilty, but instead this exchange comes across as two confused performers in desperate need of reassuring direction.
Suspension of disbelief is also almost impossible in this film due to poor production design throughout. Understandably, the filmmakers are doing what they can with a minimal budget, but the plastic toy police badges are about as convincing as CGI from the early 2000s. It’s hard to believe Patricia can’t escape Kennedy’s attic, considering the chains holding her in place look like hollow dollar store Halloween decorations rather than solid steel.
Art of Obsession is fairly straightforward in terms of how it was shot. That’s not to say there aren’t some creative camera set-ups sprinkled throughout the film, but they are few and far between. For the most part, it’s a series of static, forgettable shots, without much movement or flow.
What’s really lacking with Art of Obsession though, more than anything else, is the passion and heart of a low-budget film. The appeal of campy, high-concept movies like this is to see behind the curtain; to witness the filmmakers’ love for the project shining between the seams. While the key creatives undoubtedly make a solid effort in Art of Obsession, the film is just too plain to be memorable, sinking below mediocrity. Like too many unique and creative film concepts, the strong premise of Art of Obsession is disappointing in its poor execution, and ultimately winds up as a wasted opportunity.
Art of Obsession screens at the Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival on Sunday, November 26 at 4:30 p.m. at Toronto’s The Royal Cinema.
For more information on the festival, visit the official BITS webpage here.
Buy tickets here.
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