Friday, January 28, 2011

Personal Indiscretions, a.k.a. Primal Doubt (RHI Entertainment/Lifetime, 2007)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

This morning I watched a Lifetime TV-movie called Personal Indiscretions (though lists it under a more “thriller”-style title, Primal Doubt) which stars Janine Turner (middle-aged with a nice crop of red hair, unattractively cut, but still quite attractive and believable as the sort of person the script says she is) as Jean Harper, a romance novelist who’s been suffering the Mother of All Writer’s Blocks and hasn’t written more than a sentence or two on occasion for the last six years. She’s married to successful Hollywood producer Chase Harper (Costas Mandylor) and has an adult daughter living with them, Claire Harper (Amanda Fuller, who for once in a TV-movie is a full-figured woman playing a young person — it’s nice to see a movie that reflects the reality that not all girls in their late teens or early 20’s starve themselves to the appearance of a concentration-camp victim!). She’s also going through the Mother of All Mid-Life Crises — her husband is so busy he can’t seem to make so much as 15 minutes for her during the day (in one particularly chilling scene she calls him on set, his assistant answers and tells him his wife is calling, and he coldly tells her, “She can talk to my machine”), her daughter clearly doesn’t need her anymore and neither one can stand her cooking (which begs the question of why hubby doesn’t hire a cook). Chase spits out the coffee she made for him as he’s dashing out to the office, and later we see him not only spit out another cup of coffee made for him by an African-American assistant but spit it right on her (this is witnessed by a couple of police officers whom she tells that she’s willing to put up with this because if she can endure him for a year, she’ll have a credential on her résumé that will help her become a producer herself).

Our Heroine’s only refuges from the ennui gripping the rest of her life are the attentions of her former editor and still best friend, Holly (Maeve Quinlan); the work of her personal assistant, Carla (Brittany Ishibashi); her regular twice-a-week sessions with psychiatrist Dr. Marianne Thorne (Jamie Rose); and the Internet, where on a site called she’s met a man, Travis Freeman (Nick Kariazis), a successful architect whose wife Amanda (Rae Ritke) apparently killed herself five years before. After months of flirtatious e-mails they get to the point of having dinner together in a restaurant and make an appointment for her to meet him at his place the next day so he can show off the house he designed for himself — which has the same soulless, forbidding appearance of most homes movie architects design for themselves, full of angular “modern” corners, counters, staircases and whatnot and the sort of place that would give most people nightmares if they were sentenced to live there. Only when she shows up, his door is open and we see a shadowy figure moving about in the background as she walks up those ugly “modern” stairs to his room — where he’s sitting at his desk with his throat slit, covered in blood and clearly dead.

The police assign a team of detectives consisting of an African-American man, Ben Riggs (William Allen Young — and hearing a Black man trying to do the Jack Webb inflections from his famous cop role is one of the weirder treats this movie has to offer), and an Asian-American woman, Maggie Conrad (Freda Foh Shen), and they’re undecided whether Jean herself killed her would-be boyfriend or her husband Chase got wind of their affair (even though we know it hadn’t been consummated yet) and knocked off his wife’s paramour. For a long time we’re carefully led to believe that Chase is the killer — he’s drawn as enough of an angry asshole we’re ready to accept that he could commit murder (and Mandylor’s football-player appearance also makes it seem credible — until he’s chased in his car down a mountain road and the other driver tries to run him off the road. Later the mystery killer — wearing a black mask throughout — knocks off first Carla and then Holly, and in a dramatic final scene it’s revealed that the killer is [spoiler alert!] Dr. Thorne, who was Amanda Freeman’s therapist when Amanda had an affair with Chase five years before and who killed her then, and has now reactivated her revenge plot against Jean and everyone near and dear to her because she’s tired of hearing these spoiled rich bitches whine on and on and on about their penny-ante depressions and she wants to show them what real suffering is.

The ending is pretty preposterous — I thought the killer was going to turn out to be a relative of Amanda’s who had never forgiven Travis either for driving her to suicide or killing her himself — but the movie as a whole was well above the Lifetime average, genuinely thrilling and suspensefully directed by Yelena Lanskaya from a script by Stephen Niver that draws on familiar thriller clichés but mixes them up in an inventive and original fashion. Shown as part of a weekend during which Lifetime showed a whole bunch of movies involving the Internet, Personal Indiscretions wasn’t exactly a diamond in the rough but it was certainly entertaining and gripping.