Indie supernatural thrillers are rarely as thematically and narratively ambitious as Robi Michael’s feature debut. This low-budget effort about a man whose spirit enters the bodies of his friends after he’s murdered certainly earns points for the daringness of its premise. Unfortunately, Every Time I Die doesn’t quite have the cinematic polish to live up to its considerable aspirations, resulting in a frustratingly opaque viewing experience. Nonetheless, the film bodes well for its talented director/co-screenwriter who might well achieve bigger things with a more generous budget.
The story is told entirely from the perspective of Sam (Drew Fonteiro, underplaying to the point of tedium), a paramedic still haunted by the drowning death of his younger sister, for which he feels responsible, when they were both children. Plagued by frequent nightmares and apparent blackouts, Sam’s sole pleasure in life seems to be his ongoing affair with the married Mia (Melissa Macedo), whose soldier husband is serving overseas. Sam’s dour demeanor contrasts sharply with his philosophically minded ambulance partner Jay (Marc Menchaca, breathing much-needed life into the film), who’s a changed man since he began taking medication after a suicide attempt.
Jay invites Sam to spend the weekend with him, his wife Poppy (Michelle Macedo) and Mia, who is Poppy’s sister, at their lake house, although he’s unaware of the illicit relationship. Mia urges Sam not to accept the invitation, since her husband Tyler (Tyler Dash White), newly returned from serving overseas, will be there as well. But Sam impulsively shows up anyway, leading to tense confrontations with the instantly suspicious and emotionally volatile Tyler.
The film’s first half is slow going indeed, marked by woozy POV imagery, frequent flashbacks to the incident that resulted in the death of Sam’s sister, and dreamlike episodes involving the central character’s troubled psyche. The pic only picks up steam with Sam’s death at the hands of a deranged Tyler. What the killer doesn’t anticipate is Sam waking up in Jay’s body shortly after his death. Sam/Jay frantically attempts to warn the two women of the danger they’re in and loudly confronts a very confused Tyler when he returns to the house after covering up the evidence of his crime. And things only get weirder from there.
There’s no shortage of cleverness in the screenplay co-written by Michael and Gal Katzir, but the movie ultimately gets tripped up in its own trippiness. Despite its brief 98-minute running time, the film seems strangely drawn out, with the confusing dream sequences and flashbacks to Sam’s childhood sapping the narrative momentum. It doesn’t help that Sam is such a repressive, inward character that he fails to involve us emotionally in his inner turmoil, or that Tyler is the sort of cliched, violently crazed military veteran we’ve seen too many times before. Or that the real-life sibling actresses playing the sisters so closely resemble each other that you have trouble telling them apart. Or that the final plot twist at the end feels like at least one too many.
Every Time I Die, which is admirably free of cheap jump scares and gratuitous violence, can certainly be commended for its originality. Even if its execution doesn’t live up to its ambitions, it makes you eager to see what the filmmaker does next.
Production companies: MiLA Media, Harvest Wave Productions, Invisible Pictures
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures
Cast: Drew Fonteiro, Marc Menchaca, Michaelle Macedo, Tyler white, Melissa Macedo
Director: Robi Michael
Screenwriters: Gal Katzir, Robi Michael
Producers: David M. Milch, Gal Katzir, Robi Michael Tal Lazar
Executive producers: Ruth Cats, Moshe Edery, Yoav Kutner, Natalya Moshlyak, David Silber
Director of photography: Tal Lazar
Production designer: Kierra Jordan
Editor: Gal Katzir
Composer: Ran Bagno
Costume designer: Christina Kim