Although it slyly teases its audience with hints of paranormal activity in the early going, “37: A Final Promise” gradually emerges an old-fashioned tearjerker set to a goth-rock soundtrack. Commercial prospects appear extremely iffy for Randall Batinkoff’s indie romantic drama, but simpatico viewers who happen upon the film on VOD or in limited theatrical exposure may be pleasantly surprised by the cumulate impact of its affecting performances and involving narrative. To put it another way: The film deserves more than just a passing grade, and is a good deal better than any plot synopsis might make it sound.
Batinkoff does quadruple duty as director, co-producer, co-scripter (with Jesse Stratton) and star of the filmed-in-Los Angeles feature, which pivots on the fateful intersection of two lives rapidly approaching dead ends.
Adam Webb (Batinkoff), the moody, much-tattooed lead singer for a semi-legendary group called Wendigo, seems conspicuously underwhelmed while hyping the upcoming release of the newly reunited band’s first new recording in years. Could be that his mind is on graver matters: The album is supposed to drop in just a few weeks, on his 37th birthday — the very day he has vowed to kill himself, as punishment for his role in his kid brother’s death years earlier.
Even so, despite his guilt, despair and suicidal ambitions, Adam isn’t yet immune to the charms of a lovely lady like Jemma Johnstone (Scottie Thompson), whom he meets cute backstage at the Roxy Theatre after a Wendigo concert. All it takes is one brief encounter for the gloomy rocker to start smiling and forget — albeit briefly — the past that is, quite literally, haunting him. Unfortunately, the longer he’s with Jemma, the more he realizes that he’s not the only one who’s buckling under the weight of impossibly heavy baggage.
Batinkoff and Thompson develop a potent chemistry together, especially in those scenes where their characters share secrets and reveal intentions. At several points, the film veers perilously close to the edge of mawkishness — or, worse, inadvertent comedy — but the leads are impressively adroit at keeping the film grounded in persuasive emotional truth.
Bruce Davison brings a similarly useful conviction to his performance in a relatively small yet key supporting role as a psychic who views his own abilities with equal measures of skepticism and respect. Both the character and Davison’s performance are deftly understated, which speaks well of Batinkoff’s filmmaking instincts regarding what buttons are best not pushed.
Once it becomes clear that “37: A Final Promise” really isn’t going to follow through on early feints toward supernaturalism, the film settles into a largely satisfying groove, driven by the efforts of its romantic leads to comfort, if not save, each other. Apt literary references — ranging from Samuel Coleridge to Dalton Trumbo — are eased into dialogue with a nary a trace of self-consciousness, and the details of rock-music performance and celebrity are evoked with reasonable verisimilitude. (The Wendigo songs are provided by real-life rockers Dark Chapter.) Attractive color lensing by Wes Cardino is the film’s standout production value.
On the minus side, the ultimate explanation for Adam’s selection of a suicide date is disappointingly anticlimactic. The script is adapted from a novel by Guy Blews, who reportedly drew on personal experiences for his story. But that’s no excuse for the clunky postscript before the closing credits.
Although the movie is being promoted as “37: A Final Promise,” the title that appeared onscreen in the version provided for review was “37.”