Offers one of the more inventive concepts to come out of the fantasy/horror genre in the last couple of years.

A terrific premise is allowed to wander in “Neverlost,” which nevertheless offers one of the more inventive concepts to come out of the fantasy/horror genre in the last couple of years, even if it ends up resembling a malevolent Energizer Bunny before it comes to a stop. Knowing when to quit would have helped helmer-scripter Chad Archibald’s sardonic fantasy about dreams, drugs and recapturing the past; some liberal slicing and dicing could still make this Canadian quasi-comedy a solid attraction for genre auds or specialty houses. Pic certainly seems ripe for a bigger-budget remake.

That there might exist a portal into one’s past — where things could be made right and tragedies averted — is always an attractive basis for fantasy, and given the domestic misery of failing screenwriter Josh Higgins (Ryan Barrett), “Neverlost” is wish fulfillment deluxe. Taking an acerbic, cynical and highly humorous approach, Archibald has Josh explain, first of all, his wretched life — his disintegrated marriage to she-devil Meg (Jennifer Polansky), his stagnating career and especially his longing for the late, much-lamented Kate (Emily Alatalo), who died in a fire some years before. Second, Josh explains his frame of mind: “Sometimes I feel like this,” he says, as we cut to Josh machine-gunning a crowd of innocents, “and sometimes I feel like this,” he says, shoving some poor sap’s head into a fetid toilet bowl. Not a lot of range to his emotions, and we certainly get the point; we might even sympathize, given what he’s got on his hands with Meg.

Josh also can’t sleep, and when his doctor (Gary Fischer) reluctantly prescribes a week’s worth of mild sedatives, Josh promptly takes pharmaceutical leave of his greenish, grimy existence, awakening in a sunshine-yellow Wonderland. Kate is alive, they’re in love, and the only problem is that, in this alternate universe, Josh has been suffering from a kind of sleeping sickness; Kate has kept constant vigil, waiting for him to awaken, which he has. But when the drugs wear off, Josh passes out and wakes up back in hell. The only way he can return to Kate is to take more and more pills, which is sure to lead to accelerating chaos and, perhaps, bloated metaphors.

A subplot involves Kate’s death in that arson fire and her father (Sam Bornstein), who lurks around the fringes of the movie, providing one more strand of anguish for Josh to contend with.

Leading a solid cast, Ryan Barrett suggests a more charismatic Liev Schreiber; Alatalo is the personification of a blonde romantic/sexual ideal, and Polansky is terrifically vile. The film’s major problem is that it goes on far too long for a payoff we can see coming. But Archibald is certainly a talent, and “Neverlost” — emerging fully formed from Archibald’s Ontario-based Black Fawn Films — is a remarkable debut, even for all its growing pains.

Tech credits are all above average, and d.p. Martin Buzora’s use of the Red camera is exceptional.

Neverlost

Canada

Production

A Black Fawn Films presentation. (International sales: Raven Banner Entertainment, Toronto.) Produced by Cody Calahan, Patrick McBrearty, Chad Archibald. Executive producer, Drew Detlor. Directed by Chad Archibald. Screenplay, Archibald.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Martin Buzora; editor, Buzora; music, Brad Ferringo; production designer, Radha Menon; art director, Adam Wilson; costume designer, Adrienne Baker; sound, Matt Fudge; special effects makeup, Mitchell Stacey; assistant director, Agnieszka Mlynarz. Reviewed at Fantasia Film Festival, Montreal, June 20, 2010. Running time: 103 MIN.

With

Ryan Barrett, Emily Alatalo, Jennifer Polansky, Sam Bornstein, Gary Fischer, Patricia Ball, Peter Higginson.

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