'Backgammon': Film Review

BACKGAMMON still 1 - H 2016
Courtesy of Simon Coull Download
A would-be psychological suspense flick.

A college student's country weekend with friends turns sour, and maybe deadly.

Privileged white college kids screw up what should be a blissful country-house vacation in Backgammon, an ostensibly psychodramatic chamber piece by Francisco Orvananos. Pegging most of its hopes on two actors who hardly maintain the taut chemistry its long two-hander section requires, the pic plays like the feature debut it is, an uncertain drama full of attitude it can't back up with action. Box-office indifference is almost certain, and VOD prospects are little better.

Noah Silver plays Lucian, a Yalie who goes with his girlfriend and a college buddy to a Maine mansion occupied by the buddy's sister Miranda (All My Children's Brittany Allen). Inexplicably free of parental supervision, Miranda shares the big place only with her insufferable boyfriend Gerald (Alex Beh), who fancies himself a painter and speaks as if he's competing in a manly-voice contest with Alec Baldwin and Will Arnett.

Gerald's drunken, attention-hog behavior scares off everyone but Miranda and Lucian on the first night, and the three sit around trading straight spirits and barbed comments as if in a prep-school staging of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The dialogue, adapted from a novella by R.B. Russell, displays no understanding of the way 21st century twentysomething Americans speak: "What's he on about?"; "I shouldn't have taken up with him"; "Let's go to the conservatory." The CW this ain't.

Half the party flees after the first night's debacle, leaving Lucian and Miranda alone in the big house together. "Or are they!?!?," asks the screenplay, which flirts with turning this into a cat-and-mouse suspense scenario but doesn't want to commit. Lucian is meant to be the sane viewer surrogate here, responding to the borderline-personality-disorder temptations presented by Miranda and wondering if he can patch things up with his girlfriend. But Silver's a dead fish, and Allen is a bundle of look-at-me coquettish mannerisms waiting to coalesce into a performance. After some ill-deployed montages and a lot of business about the portraits of Miranda scattered about the house, Orvananos ties the movie up with a climax that is underwhelming even compared to the low-wattage drama leading up to it.

Distributor: 3:1 Cinema
Production company: 3:1 Cinema
Cast: Brittany Allen, Noah Silver, Alex Beh, Olivia Crocicchia, Christian Alexander
Director: Francisco Orvananos
Screenwriters: Todd E. Niemi, R.B. Russell, Francisco Orvananos
Producers: Francisco Orvananos, Colin Stanfield, Miguel Boccaloni, Chris B. Moore
Executive producers: Luis Orva Lascurain, Maria Alicia Corcuera Cabezut, Tomas Milmo Santos, Jose Pinto Mazal
Director of photography: Simon Coull
Production designer: Eric Matheson
Editors: John DiMare, Michael Fox
Composer: Bryan Senti
Casting director: Matthew Lessall

Not rated, 88 minutes