With an early hat tip to Hitchcock's "Psycho," helmer Braden Croft's micro-budgeted "Hemorrhage" initially hints at an innocent's view of evil. Instead, this thriller, birthed in darkest Canada (Edmonton), positions itself inside a man's schizophrenic hallucinations, never quite fessing up to which horrific episode is real or imagined, and keeping the viewer consistently off-balance.

With an early hat tip to Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” helmer Braden Croft’s micro-budgeted “Hemorrhage” initially hints at an innocent’s view of evil. Instead, this thriller, birthed in darkest Canada (Edmonton), positions itself inside a man’s schizophrenic hallucinations, never quite fessing up to which horrific episode is real or imagined, and keeping the viewer consistently off-balance. While some of the seams show, and Croft’s approach is not entirely new (Lodge Kerrigan’s “Clean, Shaven” comes to mind), it’s an auspicious debut for a director with a creative eye, and could achieve cult status.

The film’s opening, docudrama-styled sequence — set in an amber-lit room with swing-era music in the background — finds a man in a room, smoking a pipe, looking over his papers and then shooting himself with a pistol. Interviews follow with a doctor who, by dint of the way Croft shoots the scenes, is established as an esteemed authority in psychology and/or neuroscience. Graphs, charts, ink blots and some fantastic black-and-white shots of surgeries and archival photos cross the screen, and the subject of lobotomies is discussed, all in very clinical terms.

Cut to a young man in an antiseptic observation room: the dead man’s son, Oliver Lorenz (Alex D. Mackie), who turns out to be the movie’s oddly sympathetic psychopath. He takes his meds, tries to fit in and wants to “be a good person.” Why exactly he’s at the asylum isn’t clear, but his champion there, Dr. Peck (Diane Wallace), lobbies for his release and secures him a job at a local factory. There, an annoying co-worker pressures Oliver to the point that he starts imagining things, flips out and locks himself in a closet. Peck comes to the rescue and manages to get Oliver a job as maintenance man at a local abortion clinic, at which point Croft’s agenda starts to come into focus, however unsteadily.

The abortion-clinic locale carries its own baggage, as do the lobotomies referenced earlier. Later, Oliver’s nervous sister (Samara Sedmak) makes some rather odd pronouncements, hinting at some sort of moral subtext involving vegetarians, meat, murder and medical procedures. It isn’t overdone, but the gruesomeness of the suggestion can’t help but gnaw at the viewer.

Starting his job at the clinic, Oliver catches glimpse of a nurse, Claire (Brittney Grabill), with whom he immediately becomes obsessed. She unwisely agrees to have a drink with him at a club where Oliver proceeds to hallucinate and act out violently; he then abducts Claire, driving off and at one point locking her in the trunk of the car. At this point, “Hemorrhage” becomes a weird road movie, rich in evocative camera angles and surprising perspectives. One of Croft’s simplest, most affecting moments is a long, wide-angle shot of the car, accompanied by the sound of Claire screaming, as Oliver lurches out of a convenience store after apparently killing whoever was inside — apparently, because at some point the viewer begins to wonder whether Claire is even in the trunk, or whether Oliver isn’t still strapped to a bed.

Mackie makes Oliver unnervingly mild, resoundingly crazy and a bit Norman Bates-y in his social awkwardness. Grabill is terrific as Claire, making her character’s incongruous inability to escape from Oliver consistent with either Stockholm syndrome or genuine affection for a wounded soul. Or maybe she’s crazy too? Either way, Croft, working with limited resources, shows what a filmmaker can accomplish through visual virtuosity.

Tech credits values are tops, especially Croft’s editing, perhaps the most essential bit of craft in the film.

Hemorrhage

Canada

Production

A BMC Pictures and Random Bench Prods. presentation. (International sales: Random Bench, Vancouver.) Produced by Braden Croft, Elizabeth Levine, Adrian Salpeter, Samantha Sheplawy. Executive producer, Croft. Co-producers, Benjamin Mallin, Sheplawy. Directed, written, edited by Braden Croft.

Crew

Camera (color/B&W), Croft; music, Steve Hughes; production designer, Samantha Sheplawy; art director, Sheplawy; sound/sound editors, Graham Smith, Jay Wiltzen; associate producers, Ben Buchholtz, Benjamin Buchholtz, Nathan Taylor. Reviewed at Fantasia Film Festival, Montreal, July 24, 2012. Running time: 79 MIN.

With

Alex D. Mackie, Brittney Grabill, Diane Wallace, Ryland Alexander, Samara Sedmak.

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