'Through the Glass Darkly': Film Review

Through the Glass Darkly
However Productions
Robyn Lively's affecting performance anchors this offbeat Southern Gothic thriller.

A woman desperately tries to uncover the mystery of her missing child in Lauren Fash's debut feature.

Familiar psychological thriller tropes are infused with strong doses of social commentary in Lauren Fash's debut feature, which recently received its world premiere at the Frameline Film Festival. Depicting a woman's efforts to find her missing child, Through the Glass Darkly occasionally gets lost in its own murkiness. But the film ultimately proves an engrossing and decidedly offbeat 1990s-set suspenser, distinguished by Robyn Lively's superb performance in the lead role.

Lively, a veteran character actress whose credits go back several decades (she co-starred with Ralph Macchio in The Karate Kid Part III), plays Charlie, whose young daughter Lily (Kinsley Isla Dillon) mysteriously disappeared a year earlier. The tragic event caused an irreparable rift between Charlie and her wife Angela (Bethany Anne Lind, Ozark), although their relationship was already under stress due to the bigotry of their neighbors in their small Georgia town.

Since the disappearance, Charlie, who drowns her sorrows in alcohol, has been incessantly hectoring the local sheriff (Stan Houston) to pursue his investigation more aggressively. When another young girl who's related to the town's wealthiest family goes missing, Charlie becomes convinced that the two events are connected even as she herself becomes a prime suspect.

When intrepid journalist Amy (a charismatic Shanola Hampton, Showtime's Shameless) shows up trying to unravel the mystery, the two women team up and soon become embroiled in such dangerous activities as breaking into the home of the recent victim's father (Michael Trucco, Battlestar Galactica) and grandmother (stage veteran Judith Ivey). They also seek information from a variety of colorful local figures, including a Bible-quoting prostitute who appears to know more than she lets on.

Lively's compelling performance anchors the dark proceedings, as the actress imbues her portrayal with complex layers of fierce strength and aching vulnerability. She also effectively handles the difficult task of subtly conveying her character's mental and emotional instability, which ultimately become the essential pieces of the narrative puzzle.

The Southern Gothic-style mystery, in which many of the townspeople seem to possess long-buried secrets, doesn't exactly break new ground. But director Fash and her co-screenwriter Susan Graham add intriguing depth via their handling of the central character's sexuality and the subtle ways in which it marks her interactions with the townspeople. One of the film's more poignant scenes is a flashback in which Charlie gently instructs her puzzled little girl not to call Angela "mama" while out in public, because certain people don't approve of the unconventional household.

The story, told from Charlie's perspective, also features sequences in which reality seems to be bending, including several scenes in which she thinks she's hearing or seeing her vanished child only to be abruptly brought up short. These hint at the film's biggest, most elaborate plot twist, which many might see coming and is only partially successful in its execution.

Nonetheless, Through the Glass Darkly (the title's closeness to Ingmar Bergman's 1961 classic Through a Glass Darkly doesn't do the it any favors) deserves credit for narrative ambition and stylistic audacity. Director Fash brings impressive formal assuredness to the tense goings-on, with the evocative cinematography, editing and musical score strongly contributing to the ominous atmosphere.

Venue: Frameline Film Festival (Centerpiece)
Cast: Robyn Lively, Shanola Hampton, Michael Trucco, Judith Ivey, Bethany Anne Lind, Stan Houston, Kinsley Isa Dillon
Director: Lauren Fash
Screenwriter: Lauren Fash, Susan Graham
Producers: Autumn Bailey-Ford, Carmella Casinelli, Lauren Fash, Susan Graham, Bob Shapiro
Executive producers: Sharon Posluszny, Terrence Posluszny, Jim Rine, Jeremy Kucharek, Victoria Fash, Mitch Lin, Stacey Davis, Chris Ledoux, Robyn Lively, Shanola Hampton
Director of photography: Damian Horan
Production designer: Dara Watson
Editors: Lisa Zeno Churgin, Adriaan Van Zyl
Composer: Stephen Webster
Costume designer: Tamika Jackson
Casting: Lisa London, Catherine Stroud

103 min.