While not yet quite the triple threat he wants to be, helmer-scripter-topliner Gavin Heffernan does merit attention for this shoestring effort made during his last two years of college. Tackling bigger, life-and-death themes than its twentysomethings can adequately articulate, “Expiration” keeps afloat through a canny combination of intriguing situations, nifty Montreal locales and intelligent mood spinning. It’s already being pushed on DVD, which suits its digital origins, but the pic’s festival life hasn’t quite reached its sell-by date.
“After Hours” lite tale centers on Sam (played by the helmer, who resembles Frankie Muniz by way of Dana Carvey), a not too bright youth drifting through life until gal pal and very occasional bedmate Niki (Erin Simkin) claims to be pregnant with his child. His evening out with her, ostensibly to discuss the situation, goes wonky when she passes out after a too-funky dinner and he goes to look for help — not to return until the next morning.
First, the corner store he’s gone to for Bromo is robbed, then he has the bright idea of tracking down the robber at his home. When he’s not there (he is, of course, at a new-age lesbian wedding), Sam heads out, bumping into the attractively sullen Rachel (Janet Lane), who was also in the shop at the wrong time. Sam lost his mother’s wedding ring, which he was about to dutifully offer Niki, but Rachel lost a whole satchel full of drugs — a combo pack she’s supposed to deliver at 4 a.m. or else suffer bad consequences. They set out to fix things, sort of, meeting some strange, sometimes intriguing characters along the way.
As an actor, Heffernan makes an amiable impression, but he seems to have watched too much TV; his reactions to all developments, whether dire or amusing, are the same casual eyebrow lifting and lip pursing familiar from TV series heroes old and new. Lane’s tough-chick shtick is similarly one-note.
Simkin’s erstwhile friend has a bigger arc. When she wakes up, she falls in with a veteran prostitute (Denise DePass) who gives her a ride home, although there’s a side trip involving the hooker’s troubled daughter (Yetide Badaki). All threads are roughly tied up in the a.m.
Helmer’s story remains consistently engaging, although the details are never quite as profound, moving or funny as they could be, thanks to simplistic writing and tube-style thesping. The digital lensing, however, by Sebastian Grobys and Ben Dally, is frequently stunning, with rich colors and starkly compelling compositions found in a sharp array of settings. Sound design, emphasizing creaky, industrial noises, also contributes to suspense.
Angst-rock score, with Lane contributing closing ballad, is a bit on the de rigeur side. And it’s somewhat strange to spend an entire night in Quebec’s largest city without hearing a single word of French.