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Saving Grace

A solid showcase for its young talent, but a bit heavy on the red herrings.

With:
With: Mandy Bo, Jason Barbeck, Peter Coady.

A solid showcase for its young talent, but a bit heavy on the red herrings, “Saving Grace” is a hostage drama that doesn’t quite work as a psychological thriller precisely, and ironically, because it so successfully leads its audience down the primrose path. The film has merit as a character study, though, and will likely be remembered for being both the inaugural feature of helmer Chris Pickle and the screen debut of Canadian model Mandy Bo. Cable play seems to be the pic’s best bet.

Evocative of 1965’s “The Collector” (without the literary pedigree of John Fowles) and 2008’s “Deadgirl” (without the torture portn), “Saving Grace” is a suspense tale in which the motives of the captor and the sanity of the captive are constantly in question. Grace (Bo) is a nurse who has lost custody of her baby daughter and finds solace in heroin. When she’s taken to the hospital where she works after an overdose, she comes under the eye of a custodian, Clayton (Jason Barbeck, solid), whose flat-toned narration and mountain-man/survivalist lifestyle mark him as a bit suspect. Clayton once kept a rabbit in a cage, and it didn’t work out. He seems to want to give larger game a try.

Pickle and co-writer Filip Premrl know that bewilderment can often be the mother of suspense, and we don’t know quite enough about Clayton to decide on his motives. We do know that when Grace finally gains consciousness, she’s a captive in the basement of the abandoned school building where Clayton lives. Clayton tells her there’s been some kind of emergency involving explosions, and he brought her there for her own safety. She’s not quite buying it; neither are we.

The strategic error the film makes is in not establishing the “emergency” soon enough; Grace assumes at the beginning that she’s been abducted for the most nefarious of purposes, but then makes only the lamest attempts to escape. She’s not hysterical, surprisingly, and exhibits little desperation, except when it comes to drugs; she’s apparently hardcore enough to shoot up whatever she can find lying around, though she hardly looks like a degenerate junkie (actually, she looks like a young Julie Christie, if Julie Christie had played varsity soccer). Despite this, Grace is not a very admirable hostage, being neither upset enough nor redeemable enough to elicit the viewer’s sympathy.

But Bo acquits herself well, as does Peter Coady as Clayton’s malevolent pal Hank, and Barbeck makes Clayton a singular, uncategorizable psycho. Or, maybe not a psycho at all — maybe he’s just Grace’s savior? The problem with how it all comes together in “Saving Grace” is that it all comes apart as well.

Tech credits are above average, particularly the Red camerawork of d.p. Cameron Hucker, who gives the basement scenes an appropriately claustrophobic edge and achieves a nuanced, textured intimacy in his closeups.

Popular on Variety

Saving Grace

Canada

Production: A Knock Out Films presentation. Produced by Chris Pickle. Executive producer, George Flak. Directed by Chris Pickle. Screenplay, Pickle, Filip Premrl.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Cameron Hucker; editor, Jordan Krug; music, Varouje Hagopian; costume designer, Kelly Spinarski; sound (Dolby Digital), Kevin Coulvillion; re-recording mixers, Allen Ormerod, Matthew Harrold; casting, Ron Leach. Reviewed at Fantasia Fim Festival, Montreal, June 19, 2010. Running time: 85 MIN.

With: With: Mandy Bo, Jason Barbeck, Peter Coady.

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