“Josie” is a movie that spends so much time trying to resemble a film noir that its refusal to engage in actual film noir business proves downright exasperating, a situation compounded by the eventual revelations it has in store. Despite the pic’s firm sense of its ramshackle Southern milieu and its going-to-seed characters, director Eric England’s feature is a protracted tease, using a clichéd set-up — involving a young woman who deliberately catches the eye of a solitary older man — to promise criminal intrigue and thrills that never materialize. Inert until it becomes inane, it likely will satisfy only those craving an opportunity to ogle “Game of Thrones” star Sophie Turner in short-shorts and bikinis.
Wearing a collection of fishnet stockings and tattered tank-tops that reveal her plentiful tattoos, Turner certainly shows her seductive side as Josie, a teenage blonde who — sans parents — moves into the nondescript Pink Motel. In doing so, she immediately lands on the radar of Hank (Dylan McDermott), a loner who does little other than fish, watch TV and monitor the local high school, where he frequently clashes with delinquent students Marcus (Jack Kilmer) and Gator (Daeg Faerch). When not being plagued by visions of a mysterious prison inmate, Hank also tends to a pair of tortoises that he houses in a makeshift habitat constructed on his back patio, a walled-in enclave that affords him opportunities to covertly spy on Josie sunbathing by the pool.
Middle-aged Hank’s gawking at Josie (visualized via England and DP Zoe White’s drooling zooms and pans) doesn’t go unnoticed by the motel’s other residents, namely nosey Martha (Robin Bartlett) and her husband, Gordie (Kurt Fuller), who has a habit of calling his neighbor “Hanky Panky.” Still, their warnings don’t deter Hank, especially considering that Josie shows interest in him as well. The fact that she’s also coming on to Marcus — and, at a late-night keg party, Gator — suggests that she’s a sexual temptress with ulterior motives. Yet whereas Anthony Ragnone II’s script establishes a scenario fit for a femme fatale, Josie by and large just strings both Hank and Marcus along, to tepidly mysterious ends.
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This is a slow burn that takes its time getting around to its narrative bombshells. For the majority of the 87-minute runtime, the focus remains on McDermott’s Hank, a recluse suffering from the trauma of his prior job as a Texas prison guard who aided in death row executions. With a scruffy beard and a gravely southern drawl, he’s a compelling figure of hurt, self-loathing and foolish longing. Turner’s coy come-hither smiles and skimpy outfits, meanwhile, make her a punk-rock Lolita (a close-up of her in sunglasses underlines her Nabokov-via-Kubrick lineage). For most of “Josie,” though, she’s relegated to being merely an inscrutable object of desire.
Though their inappropriate relationship seems like the vehicle for a prototypical noir, the pic instead plays out in laconic fashion, with Hank gradually giving in to lustful emotions he’d do best to ignore. While eschewing genre formula is admirable, England’s tack proves enervating, since Hank and Josie generally feel like archetypes devoid of purpose. That all changes during the closing minutes, which expose the proceedings as a slightly different sort of genre film. Alas, they lay bare Josie’s true intentions in ways that are so ridiculously illogical that they render the entire affair a preposterous put-on.