'Josie': Film Review

Josie Still - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of Screen Media Films
More pseudo-noir than neo-noir.

'Game of Thrones' star Sophie Turner plays the mysterious title character, opposite Dylan McDermott's reclusive loner, in a thriller directed by Eric England.

From the voiceover drawl of Dylan McDermott's loner to the edge-of-town motel where he meets Sophie Turner's femme fatale, the genre pieces are set up so clearly in Josie that they border on parody. Working from Anthony Ragnone II's Black List screenplay Huntsville, director Eric England stirs up a modicum of mystery surrounding the central duo, but the tension quickly devolves into an empty tease.

At various moments throughout the movie, Turner and McDermott suggest something far more complicated and messy than the noir-tinged exercise that unfolds. McDermott conveys a sense of self-imposed exile as Hank, who lives a quiet life with two pet tortoises (providing the drama's only persuasive emotional hook). Even on the tranquil lake where Hank likes to fish, that quiet is sometimes disrupted by visions of a frightening-looking man in prison orange (Micah Fitzgerald).

Hank doesn't realize how lonely he is until new neighbor Josie arrives. An ultra-mature high schooler who lives on her own and whose explanation for her situation changes depending on who she's talking to, Josie draws Hank out of his isolation. As he responds to her coolly seductive friendliness and Lolita poses by the pool, Hank's wariness turns to attraction, setting off alarms for nosy neighbor Martha (a very good Robin Bartlett) and her obnoxious husband (Kurt Fuller). It's clear as day that there's a dark agenda behind Josie's every move, Turner communicating thorough condescension coiled beneath the surface composure and flickers of sympathy.

While she's playing Hank like a country fiddle, Josie also gets friendly with Marcus (Jack Kilmer), a callow classmate of hers. At every opportunity, Marcus and his boorish buddy (Daeg Faerch) aggressively hassle Hank, who works at their school as a security guard. Through no fault of Kilmer and McDermott, the animosity between their characters is, like Hank's job, a head-scratcher — until it becomes clear that it's a necessary ingredient in Josie's scheme.

The setting for much of the action is a motel somewhere in the South (played by the San Fernando Valley midcentury landmark the Pink Motel, whose many screen appearances include the Netflix series GLOW). England and DP Zoe White conjure an outsider vibe from the location, but mainly it feels like a stylistic statement, not an expression of something deeper about the characters who converge there. (In the realm of contemporary American noir, the recent Jon Bernthal starrer Sweet Virginia uses a motel setting far more expressively.)

Under the direction of England, who has worked in horror (Contracted) and black comedy (Get the Girl), Ragnone's self-consciously screenwriterly writing never fully comes alive. What might have been a haunting story of reckoning is instead an inert march to a grim twist, the intended wallop lost in the narrative mechanics. "There's all kinds of stories," the voiceover narration unhelpfully intones. This is definitely one of them.

Distributor: Screen Media Films
Production companies: Waterstone Entertainment, Coalition Group, Traveling Picture Show Company, Boo Pictures
Cast: Sophie Turner, Dylan McDermott, Jack Kilmer, Micah Fitzgerald, Lombardo Boyar, Daeg Faerch, Robin Bartlett, Kurt Fuller
Director: Eric England
Screenwriter: Anthony Ragnone II
Producers: Luisa Iskin, Johnny Wunder, Kevin Matusow, Jeff Kalligheri
Executive producers: Carissa Buffel, Steven Chester Prince, Fouad Mikati, Karam Abulhusn, Candice Abela Mikati, Stephen Bowen, Christian Bishop, Dustin Duke Dlouhy, Lauren Russell, Ash Sarohia
Director of photography: Zoe White
Production designer: Rebekah Bell
Editor: Paul Matthew Gordon
Composer: Raney Shockne

87 minutes