'Diane': Film Review

Courtesy of MeanTimeProd.com
Atmospheric and intriguing.

A disabled war veteran discovers the dead body of a young woman in his backyard in Michael Mongillo's drama.

It's rare these days to encounter a movie that's unclassifiable. The latest feature from director Michael Mongillo (Being Michael Madsen) could be described as a horror film, a psychological drama or a crime thriller. But it doesn't really fit neatly into any of those categories. That in itself is enough to recommend Diane. Just be aware that by the end it's not completely successful in its storytelling. 

The pic is anchored by the riveting lead performance of Jason Alan Smith (Before I Wake). He plays Steve, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan who bears both physical and emotional scars from his experiences. Limping stiffly with the aid of a cane, Steve resides in his deceased parents' house, living a solitary existence and drinking heavily.

His life changes dramatically when he wakes up one morning to discover a woman's dead body in his backyard. Clad only in pristine white underwear and an overcoat, she has a screwdriver sticking out of her chest. Steve dutifully contacts the authorities, but not before taking a picture of the corpse with his cellphone. She turns out to be Diane (Carlos Avers), a local aspiring singer.

The investigating detectives (Margaret Rose Champagne, Dick Boland) instantly consider Steve a prime suspect, especially when he admits about the victim, "I can honestly say, she's the most beautiful girl I've seen in my entire life." He finds himself periodically harassed by the cops and physically threatened by some thuggish townspeople who consider him a murderer in their midst. More importantly, he also finds himself experiencing visions of the woman, who, it turns out, was already dead from a drug overdose before she was stabbed. Whether he's being visited by a ghost or experiencing flashbacks remains ambiguous, and an unexpected visit from Diane's husband (Doug Tompos), who accuses him of being her lover, only adds to his confusion. At the same time, Steve ironically begins feeling stronger both physically and mentally, even seemingly not in need of his cane anymore.

Smith's rugged presence and canny underplaying keep us consistently intrigued about his enigmatic character, and the sultry Avers makes a similarly vivid impression despite her relatively brief screen time. The supporting performances aren't as nuanced, but that's more a result of the more schematic aspects of Mongillo's screenplay than the fault of the actors.

The film's atmospheric visuals add greatly to the overall effect. The color palette is mostly washed out but occasionally shifts to vibrant hues depending on the emotions of a scene. And the purposefully ordinary Connecticut locations provide a hauntingly mundane backdrop to the spooky goings-on. From the opening sequence depicting a glamorous Diane singing a song directly to the camera to the visual stylization on display, the pic often recalls the work of David Lynch without being slavishly imitative.

Diane falters toward the end, with the story's denouement not quite living up to the provocative setup. But it nonetheless exerts a fascinating pull that makes you very interested to see what its talented filmmaker comes up with next.

Production company: Mean Times Productions
Distribution: Random Media
Cast: Jason Alan Smith, Carlee Avers, Margaret Rose Champage, Dick Boland, Doug Tompos
Director-screenwriter: Michael Mongillo
Producers: Davis Mikaels, Thomas Edward Seymour
Executive producers: Michael Mongillo, Jason Alan Smith
Director of photography: Anthony E. Griffin
Editors: Michael Mongillo, Jeff Reilly, Taylor Warren
Composer: Austin Wintory

82 minutes