By the time this movie season is over, the motel business should be in ruins. “Vacancy” and “Bug” promise to do as little for innkeeping as “Psycho” ever did, and now “Sympathy” — shot entirely in one rented room, albeit with more angles than an eight-sided poker player — should have people checking out everywhere. But they might consider checking into “Sympathy,” debuting in a limited run in at BevHills’ Fine Arts Theater.
It’s a hysterical film, intense, hyperkinetic and, by definition, an experiment — as much an exercise as Hitchcock’s “Rope” or Richard Linklater’s “Tape,” which were also virtually confined to one room (and in “Rope’s” case, single takes). Helmer Andrew Moorman, who also shot and edited his low-budget indie, uses every perspective afforded him in the single room, shifting during one intense sequence to split-screen, but maintaining an off-balance tension throughout.
Working with a script by Arik Martin (who adapted his own play), Moorman keeps his cards close to his vest. But it’s clear that there’s more to the situation than meets the eye when Trip (Steven Pritchard) and Sara (Marina Shtelen) tumble into their rented room, he with a gun to her head and she, shortly, in handcuffs. He’s a bank robber; she’s his hostage. But very little is what it seems.
It’s a curious thing about implausibilities: One or two can ruin a movie; six or seven and you don’t notice anymore. The film moves into the realm of allegory and faux fantasy, albeit a blood-drenched one. Trip, in an effort to silence Sara with a pillow, accidentally shoots her in the shoulder. This does little to dampen her cockiness but it does tick her off. Trip is no match for her, even with help: Dennis (Aaron Boucher), an escaped convict who picks their room, of all the rooms in the world, to walk into.
“Sympathy” is hardly a masterpiece of screenwriting, as too many questions hang in the air for too long. Where the pic really works is in its editing, its strong performances by all three leads and its sound, which is glorious.
Pic also works as a well-guided female empowerment missile — few women on film have managed to terrorize two possibly psychotic males while handcuffed to a bed and bleeding to death. One shudders to speculate what a healthy Sara might have been capable of doing.