Sympathy (2007) – By Josh Samford

I have always been very impressed with the concept of single set films. Movies that take place in one location and with a limited cast. It is a sub-genre of film that demonstrates all of our weaknesses and our strong suits. In order to keep your film interesting you will either have to keep your script incredibly interesting or have enough visual ideas that you can keep your audience compelled through the visual medium. It is a test that many filmmakers have failed before in the past, so it must have taken director Andrew Moorman quite a considerable amount of time and effort to go out and shoot his very first feature film in this format. That preparation simply had to be there, because it shines through in this incredibly impressive debut film. Already lavished amongst the critics who have seen the film, I can only offer up my own praises for it by saying that it manipulates audiences and delivers a twisting series of events that can knock you flat. That does not mean its a perfect film, but it may be one of the most impressive independent films I have seen in quite a while.

Trip is a bank robber who has escaped the law and taken a hostage along for the ride, the beautiful Sara. He makes his way to an isolated hotel where he decides to hold up for the night before getting up in the morning and heading to Canada. He places Sara in a pair of military grade handcuffs that are impossible to pick so that he can get some rest. When Sara begins to antagonize Trip however, she breaks his confidence and starts to wear him down. As he grows in his frustration he nearly kills the girl when he shoots her in the arm. As she yells in pain, he decides to head out for supplies. This turns out to be a bad idea as the escaped convict Dennis breaks into the motel room while he is out and awaits Trip’s return. Dennis gets the jump on Trip and places him in handcuffs as well. So now both Trip and Sara are hostages, but as the night progresses motivations become muddy and nothing is as it first seems.

From the very opening of the film it seems apparent that these filmmakers have talent behind them. Truthfully, I could tell this just by the choice of font on the opening credits. So many filmmakers choose fonts for this that are either so plain that there’s no style to them or they choose something that we in the audience have seen dozens of times before. Just seeing that font, that I wasn’t familiar with, that was chosen for the introductory titles – I knew that the filmmakers were on the right track. From there we’re introduced to the characters of Trip and Sara and the fourth character in the movie: the motel room. We will be spending the rest of the film on this one set. It begins to take on a life by itself as we see a "before" and "after" shot of the bed right at the beginning of the movie. The before shot is an impeccably well made bed and the after shot displays a blood soaked bed only covered in the white sheets. It’s a striking visual and it clues us into the future violence that has yet to come. Although we don’t know who or how the blood gets there, the viewer now knows that at some point something is coming. A daring move on the part of the director, but a well thought out addition to the film. As the plot moves along we the audience discover that everything we thought we knew from seeing that one shot, is completely wrong and what is yet to come is a true mystery.

The performances by the cast are really pitch perfect. This young cast deserves a hand for their work but they also deserve careers because I can see great things happening in their future. The consistent twists and turns of the script demand some really interesting characterization from the main cast. Their motivation for one scene could very well have implications on three or four twists that their character may have going on in their back story. In the same way that this would prove to be a difficult first film for any director, these roles are as equally tricky for these debuting actors/actress. Director Andrew Moorman does a great job of getting the very best from his actors and doesn’t skimp out on the tricky visuals that help make the film such an engaging piece. There are so many interesting quirks to the cinematography and compositions. From slow pans and freeze frames to a really excellent split-screen sequence that calls forth Brian DePalma. Helping the visuals and the actors in creating a tension fueled suspense story in the soundtrack and main score, but is both eerie and supportive of the movie. After walking away you have to sit back and just realize what an intense little film this is and when I think about what helped create that intensity, I have to say the music added a tremendous amount to it.

The movie is far from perfect however, I have to admit. I found that the dialogue tried a little hard at times to convince us that these characters were either incredibly tough or on top of everything. There are some witty quips thrown about, I can’t deny that, but overall I think some lines seem to remove us from reality. As the film goes along, unfortunately the twists and turns can almost be too much. After the initial introduction to these characters it seems as if they each have a twist to their character that pops up every twenty minutes. One person leads you down a road that allows you to believe one thing, only to switch it up after that twenty minute period lapses. The story was already hard enough to suspend our disbelief in, that a bank robber and an escaped convict would converge on the same hotel AND the same room? Yet these tremendous plot twists that come about ask us to watch the film as a mystery from then on out. Not that I completely dislike the twists, I simply think there were perhaps far too many.

To be fair, the plot twists do make that Bank Robber meets Escaped Criminal subplot actually more palatable but overall I am sure you catch my drift. Sympathy may have a few issues here and there, but overall I think it marks the coming of a truly talented director and some tremendous young actors. I simply can’t wait to see what these filmmakers get up to in the near future. I am expecting big things! You can find more information on the title by checking out their Facebook page!