A forbidding and morbid piece of psycho-sadomasochism, “Downloading Nancy” is chilly enough to cause global cooling all by itself. Built around a swimming-in-the-deep-end performance by Maria Bello that is the definition of fearless, this first feature by big-deal Swedish commercials and music vid helmer Johan Renck feels like a walk-on-the-wild-side Euro entry rather than anything that would normally come out of the Amerindie movement. Commercial prospects, at least Stateside, are below zero.
Film is set partly in Baltimore but was shot in Saskatchewan in the dead of winter by ace lenser Christopher Doyle in greenish-blue hues that make everyone look like they’ve got full-body gangrene. Pic has a deathly pallor entirely in synch with the desire of Bello’s Nancy to depart her mortal coil for whatever lies beyond.
Nancy’s unfathomable rage lies at the heart of Pamela Cuming and Lee H. Ross’ script, intercut fragments of which portray her inert marriage to businessman Albert (Rufus Sewell), the latter’s slow-burn reaction to his wife’s disappearance, Nancy’s dance-of-death with Louis (Jason Patric), the man she has chosen online to “wipe my slate clean,” and the violent face-off between the two men as Albert tries to learn what happened to his wife.
Despite scenes of an agitated Nancy with her shrink (Amy Brenneman), the reasons for her bottomless despair can’t be articulated; her marriage is dead, but that doesn’t mean she has to be. Clearly, it’s something much deeper, beyond rational expression, and Bello’s ferocious performance has to be counted as a total success for the simple reason that, when pushed to the brink, she is completely convincing in expressing Nancy’s certainty that nothing, not even love, can liberate her from her condition except death.
On a moment to moment basis, however, pic continuously skirts very close to the ludicrous in its advanced-stage grimness and outre forms of torture foreplay. As Nancy requires pain from her hunky executioner, Louis uses her nether-regions as an ashtray and, most imaginatively, blindfolds her and guides her across a room so that her toes and feet will be repeatedly snapped by mousetraps, all to the accompaniment of droning techno music.
Renck indisputably proves he’s able to sustain a tone, but it’s a pretentiously solemn one in which the wallow in extreme psychological and emotional realms are continuously disrupted by silly and distracting real-life details, such as Albert’s esoteric business scheme of establishing indoor golf ranges in airports.
Performances are cranked up to red-line neurotic levels, while production values intently contribute to creating an artificially bleak world where it’s understandable scarcely anyone would want to spend time, even for the duration of this movie.