A twisty B-movie noir with shades of the classic "Detour," "The Ante" ought to repay Panorama Entertainment's bet, placed at Slamdance -- in ancillary at least.

A twisty B-movie noir with shades of the classic “Detour,” “The Ante” ought to repay Panorama Entertainment’s bet, placed at Slamdance — in ancillary at least. Shot in Canada, Max Perrier’s low-budget widescreen debut feature has only three characters, but each factors indelibly while double- and triple-crossing the others. Pic is vaguely Coens-esque, with comically pathetic small-town weirdos getting bloody in pursuit of elusive cash, and chuckles come as much from Perrier’s oft-witty camera placement as from the surprising scenario. Trio of actors up “The Ante” further from well-made thriller to memorably cultish hoot.

Sucker-to-be Sam Bailey (Paul Burke) takes the proverbial wrong turn down a country road and meets a nutcase farmer (Paula Davis) who slashes his arm, perhaps by accident, and then frames him for the murder of her husband, not at all by accident.

Screwy, violent complications multiply upon the appearance of Jan (Anastasia Bondarenko), Sam’s sassy Russian spouse, who sees a chance to grab at least half the widow’s double indemnity. A former stripper and bona fide loony, Jan seems to be channeling the unhinged spirit of Ann Savage’s feral femme fatale in the 1945 version of “Detour.”

In a film of carefully calibrated tone, the final few minutes play as overly goofy, but the remainder is well designed and executed. Perrier expertly shifts audience sympathy from strung-out Sam to each of the women before obliterating it entirely. Characters eventually emerge as both unlikable and funny, which is no small feat for the actors. Davis delves furthest into the grotesque with a physically wild perf that riffs on stereotypes of well-fed farm women.

Script by Danek S. Kaus and James Chancellor makes enjoyably wacky use of F-bombs; editing, by the director himself, periodically goes into overdrive with subliminally registered snippets of past events, reconfigured to cast further aspersion on Sam.

Cinematographer Maarten Kroonenburg, shooting in 35mm through woods and farmland, makes the ordinary creepy and occasionally horrifying, favoring showy closeups in the first half and chilling panoramas in the second. All tech credits, particularly given the budget, are superb.

The Ante

Production

A Panorama Entertainment release of a Peter Proffit Pictures production. Produced by Max Perrier, Valerie Gagnon. Directed, edited by Max Perrier. Screenplay, Danek S. Kaus, James Chancellor, from a story by Simon Perrier.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor, widescreen), Maarten Kroonenburg, Perrier; music, Eric Lemieux; production designer, Valerie Gagnon; sound (Dolby Digital), Michel Gauvin; special effects supervisor, Lisanne Desrosiers. Reviewed on DVD at Slamdance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 24, 2009. Running time: 81 MIN.

With

Paul Burke, Paula Davis, Anastasia Bondarenko, Mitch Wolanski, Sharon McDonell.

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