In the history of bad ideas, entrepreneurial or otherwise, perhaps none has ever been worse than that of Ray Moody (Pat Healy), who earns his living providing kidnapping role-playing scenarios for clients interested in confronting personal issues or acting out deviant fantasies. Ray’s wannabe-therapeutic business predictably leads to trouble in “Take Me,” star Healy’s nimble directorial debut, which exploits its screwy premise for both unnerving laughs and volatile thrills. Tailor-made for a cult following, it should be eagerly snatched up by audiences after its Tribeca film festival premiere.
Having relocated from Atlantic City to Los Angeles due to a shady past incident involving his ex-wife, Ray finds banks unwilling to financially commit to his Kidnap Solutions, LLC, which he claims “helps people,” such as an early, overweight client (Jim O’Heir) who uses a seizure scenario to overcome his fast-food eating habits. Forced to secretly borrow cash from his brother-in-law, Ray’s dwindling fortunes take a turn when he receives a call from a sexily breathy woman claiming to be Anna St. Clair (“Orange Is the New Black” star Taylor Schilling), a corporate execute who says she’ll pay him $5000 for a weekend-long abduction — but only if Ray agrees to violate his own terms of service and slap her around in the process.
Sporting a goofy wig and aviator sunglasses, Ray reluctantly agrees to this proposition, and is soon taking Anna hostage at (fake) gunpoint. Back in the brick-lined basement of his mother’s house, where Anna is tied up and gagged, Ray commences his scripted simulation involving demands for a phony work file (the purported reason he’s grabbed Anna). However, after initially seeming only half-heartedly into this ruse, Anna suddenly turns alternately dismissive, confused, scared, and downright aggressive — to the point that she stabs Ray in the back with a shard of glass. And then, the cops show up at Ray’s door.
What ensues is a game of cat-and-mouse in which the reality of Ray and Anna’s situation becomes increasingly fuzzy, both to audiences and, at various points, to Ray and Anna as well. Ray begins as a self-assured schlub, but as circumstances spiral out of control, he starts projecting confidence as a means of staving off panic, if not outright terror (“I’m very good at what I do,” he repeatedly remarks, less convincing each time). Healy embodies his well-intentioned loon with just the right measure of buffoonish arrogance and pitifulness, and he’s ably matched by the equally alluring and intimidating Schilling, whose Anna vacillates so wildly between pleading victim and dangerous threat that it’s never quite clear what’s genuine and what’s an act.
As the action relocates from Ray’s basement to his parents’ remote cabin, “Take Me” segues into deeper character-related terrain, revealing secrets about Ray that explain his motivations, even as they fail to make them any less twisted or pathetic. Those revelations turn Ray into more than just a one-joke conceit, while further amplifying the what’s-going-on mystery of this psychosexual S&M-style guessing game, which soon twists itself into a dizzying knot. From one wild mood swing to the next, it keeps us interested with aplomb, with Mike Makowsky’s script never lingering too long on any one element, the better to keep the pace brisk, and unpredictable.
Healy’s direction is similarly to the point, its unassuming compositions and curt edits enhancing the proceedings’ droll brusqueness. Heather McIntosh’s bouncy score is laced with darker tones, thereby providing suitable musical accompaniment for a tale that dive-bombs into that hazy gray area between terror and comedy. By ordeal’s end, its harried characters may not know which way is up, but “Take Me” maintains throughout a firm grip on its farcical absurdity.