Night Orchid" is a pacey Southern Gothic mystery by first-time helmer Mark Atkins, a member of the self-billed Florida Five group of indie filmmakers, linked by their use of Central Florida for film locations and production. With a neat premise and sustained tension, Atkins' low-budget outing, shot when he was 26, could have a healthy vid life, and has an outside chance of theatrical release. Pic is a technically slick debut likely to serve as a handy calling card for future projects. Clay Doyle (Dale Paris) is a drifter haunted by an unusual talent: Places "talk" to him. If Clay goes to a place where a violent act has taken place, he sees it in fragmented but vivid flashback. Little surprise, then, that the town Clay stumbles into, a drowsy Central Florida backwater called Ochopee, has more skeletons in its cupboard than most. At first, all goes well for Clay, who finds a job in a run-down service station, rents a room from a kindly, gabby boardinghouse owner and becomes an object of interest in a town where novelty and education are both in short supply. But trouble is just around the corner for Clay, whose unusual relationship with places soon makes him aware of darker episodes in Ochopee's past.
Pic hinges on the mysterious disappearance of a beautiful young woman many years ago who Clay, through a series of spooky visions and unexpected plot twists, believes was murdered. Enlivened with a supernatural edge and unexpected humorous touches, pic sustains suspense until its slightly flat ending. Script does not give actors much in the way of character development or sparkling dialogue, but performances are all reliable and do not get in the way of the plot.
Stylish lensing by Paul Atkins (the director’s uncle) contributes much to the movie’s sense of foreboding and uses Florida settings — wooden houses, orange groves and a deserted fruit-packing plant — to eerie effect.