Saturday, June 27, 2009

Cries in the Dark (Fast/Dark Protocol/Lifetime, 2006)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I ran a Lifetime TV-movie I recorded a couple of weeks ago that turned out to be quite good, despite its appallingly generic title, Cries in the Dark. It opens with one of those gooder-than-good Lifetime suburban openings that leaves us utterly convinced something dire is going to happen to all these people, even though we can’t be sure precisely what: Elle (pronounced “el”) Cornwell (Camille Sullivan) is in her final month of pregnancy and expecting her daughter (she’s had the sonogram or whatever they call it done so she won’t be in suspense as to her newborn’s gender) any day now. She runs a real-estate office in partnership with her husband Scott (Adam Harrington, the sort of tall, lanky, sandy-haired, blue-eyed, not bad-looking but not drop-dead gorgeous guy Lifetime seems to like in its leading men) who’s put her off because of his workaholism and also his occasional dalliances with other women — nothing serious, just one-night stands with people he’s picked up in bars, but still … They’re also close to Elle’s sister, policewoman Carrie Macklin (Eva La Rue Callahan, top-billed), who one morning jokingly “stops” Elle’s car and tells her, “You have the right to remain pregnant.”

One night the three of them are scheduled to have dinner together at Scott’s and Elle’s home — Carrie is asked by the local police chief (Anthony Harrison) to stop at a motel where recently released sex offender Glenn Davis (Diego Diablo Del Mar) is staying because, even though he hasn’t done anything they know of, they want to let him know that the cops are keeping an eye on him, but she passes that off to her partner, Darrell Wynn (Adrian Holmes, a really hot African-American who’s by far the most attractive male in this film — memo to Dick Wolf: if Christopher Meloni doesn’t re-up for the next season of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, please hire Adrian Holmes as his replacement!) and instead goes to her sister’s dinner party, only Scott gets a call to run an errand for work and Carrie also leaves early for reasons screenwriter Kraig Wenman doesn’t do a good job explaining (if he supplied any, I missed them), leaving Elle home alone … and when Scott returns from his errand Elle is gone, the sliding glass door to their patio is cracked open, and the kettle on their stove is boiling.

Carrie takes a leading role in the investigation of Elle’s disappearance despite the chief’s concern that her obvious conflict of interest is going to compromise the case if anybody is arrested and needs to be prosecuted, so he takes Carrie’s gun away and makes Darrell the lead investigator of whatever it was happened — which turns out to be murder after Elle’s body is found. At first, the police naturally suspect Glenn Davis — who had stopped by Elle’s office and, under the guise of being interested in a house, made a pass at her — but he turns out to have an alibi: the night of Elle’s disappearance and murder he was stalking another woman at a town 32 miles away. Then Carrie deduces from the condition of Elle’s body — it was sliced open at the womb — that the baby may still be alive and Elle’s killer may have been motivated by the desire for a child of her own and, being unable to have one naturally, she targeted a woman in the last days of pregnancy and kidnapped her, surgically removed her baby (it’s established that she worked as a dental hygenist so she knew something about medicine) and passed the child off as her own. It turns out that the murderess is someone Elle knew from her hospital visits: a pregnant woman (at least she looked pregnant — Wenman’s script leaves it as a loose end just how she pulled off that disguise) who befriended Elle and said she was expecting a baby of her own but wouldn’t say who the father was because he was a married man. This woman, Rosa Allen (Gina Chiarelli), abandons the trailer she’s been living in and moves in with her own father — and it turns out that she was one of Scott Cornwell’s one-night tricks, and she formed an obsession on him that she was going to take his wife’s place as well as claiming their baby as her own. The cops trace her, ironically, when she sends a love letter to Scott — and she ends up showing up at Scott’s home with baby in tow, demanding that he flee with her and pulling a gun on him when he refuses and calls the police instead.

Cries in the Dark is a remarkably good Lifetime movie; director Paul Schneider has a real flair for suspense and thrills, and Wenman’s script, though saddled with a few loose ends he never bothers to tie up, makes sense and is particularly remarkable for not taking the easy ways out: there are plenty of bits in this film where he could have plugged in a handy cliché and he decided to be more creative than that. The acting is also finely honed, though of all the characters only the three women really live and breathe as complex, individualized people — even more than usual for Lifetime, the men are dramatic ciphers — and I liked the unmistakable anti-cheating message for the film even though its producers are clearly playing the same game the major Hollywood studios played during the Production Code era: showing really kinky or extra-marital sexual relationships and offering them as examples of how not to behave even while giving the audience an erotic charge from depicting the perverse (though this time there aren’t any soft-core porn scenes — a pity; I found myself wishing Wenman had done more than hint of Darrell’s sexual interest in Carrie and actually showed them going at it!).