Fugue is one of those movies that requires its audience to be a blank slate to be truly effective. If you want to get the most out of this film, it is best to go in knowing as little as possible about what happens.
Written and directed by Tomas Street, Fugue is a Memento-esque thriller with tight pacing and a talented cast. Jack Foley is instantly likeable as Malcolm, a man who wakes up one afternoon with amnesia, unable to remember his wife, friends, or himself. Foley brings an undeniable charisma to the role and delivers an impressive performance for such an unseasoned actor.
Fugue is the product of the INDIECAN20K Film Initiative, a 2016 program that awarded a maximum of twenty thousand dollars to a first time feature filmmaker. Not only is Fugue a lesson in less-is-more filmmaking, but it also exemplifies how a solid, polished movie can be made without an extravagant budget. Set entirely in one house over the course of one twenty-four hour period, there is a minimalism that permeates every aspect of the film from the straightforward, yet intimate, cinematography to the limited use of a musical score. It just works.
Without giving too much away, a shift occurs at the end of the first act when Malcolm finds that everything might not be what it appears. While the plot isn’t without a few holes and unexplained details, the precision and attention to detail in both the script, performances, and camerawork pay off. This kind of restraint is rare and impressive, especially in an independent, low budget feature. Aspiring filmmakers, take note – this is how it’s done.
The only buzzkill is writer/director Street’s decision to create spectacle of violence only when it is enacted upon Fugue‘s female characters. While the camera shifts quickly away when a man is injured, it lingers on the pain of women and seems to delight in their blood and their suffering. I always find this sort of gendered violence-as-entertainment a bit nauseating, but in such an otherwise thoughtful and well-constructed film it just feels sloppy and out of place.
Let that be a lesson in and of itself: indulging uncritically in established sexist tropes can quickly take an audience from the edge of their seats to “am I supposed to be enjoying this?”- no matter how entertaining the film has been up until that point. While the misstep doesn’t make Fugue unwatchable, it certainly left this viewer with a sour taste in her mouth.
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