Friday, July 24, 2015

Love You to Death (Anchor Bay Films, Dolphin Entertainment, Aircraft Pictures, Corkscrew Media, Lifetime, 2015)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2015 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The “feature” I ran last night was a Lifetime movie, Love You to Death, which for some reason I’ve been unable to find on — director Rick Bota (whose name conjured up the inevitable joke — “Ah, it was directed by a leather pouch used in Spain to carry wine!”) and star Lindsey Shaw (who was born in 1985 and therefore presumably played one of the high-school student protagonists’ parents) are credited with another TV movie from 2015, Secret Summer, but it had different writers and a different story (and Love You to Death takes place during the school year, not in summer) that lists as “filming,” and Bota also directed Damaged, a 2014 Lifetime movie shown a couple of weeks ago. There doesn’t seem to be an page for this Love You to Death, but after the surprising power of The Bride He Bought Online, Love You to Death was a return to the slovenliness of most of Lifetime’s output. (No fewer than four production companies — Anchor Bay Films, Dolphin Entertainment, Aircraft Pictures, Corkscrew Media — are credited with this slice of cheese, as are one “producer,” Anthony Leo; two “supervising producers,” Sarah Soboleski and Sue Bristow; four “associate producers,” Megan Ellstrom, Aaron Champion, Javier Riera, and Jennifer Pun; and four “executive producers,” Scott Henuset, Andrew Rosen, Kevin Kasha, and Bill O’Dowd.)

The film opens with a powerful sequence in which a young blonde woman is being chased on a lonely country road by a sinister figure driving a large black car. “I won’t get in,” she says as the driver pulls up alongside her, but needless to say he won’t take no for an answer. She tries to flee, but eventually … well, we presume he catches up with her and kills her because we see a close-up of her screaming, and the next scene is a jump-cut to a poster on a tree announcing that she’s missing. It also says her name is Melissa Kennedy, and the main part of the movie consists of a student at Hampton Preparatory School, Sylvia, who’s attracted to a mysterious young man named Lucas who seems to have all the money and material objects he needs (he’s the child of super-rich parents who, like Natalie Wood’s father in Rebel Without a Cause, leave the country a lot and leave him alone in their big house). He drives around in a hot, low-slung sports car that practically becomes a character in itself, especially the way he drives it, loudly and obnoxiously, and he bonds with Sylvia mainly due to their shared interests in comic books (Sylvia is an aspiring comics artist who’s done a book of her own called Love Me) and silent films (Sylvia works at the local silent-movie theatre — this town doesn’t look big enough to have a current movie theatre, let alone a recherché revival house showing things like Broken Blossoms and Nosferatu, clips from both of which appear here, but there it is) as well as LP records (though the song Sylvia and Lucas listen to on vinyl on his state-of-the-art turntable sounds pretty much like every other song in the film). But their relationship is hampered by the way police are sniffing around Lucas because they suspect him of Melissa’s murder, and in particular by the harassment of Sylvia’s ex-boyfriend Harry, who works at the local comic book store and, like Sylvia, has ambitions to make his living as a comic-book artist.

It’s probably not that big a surprise — or a spoiler — to say that about two-thirds of the way through the movie, after throwing us a red herring in the form of an unrelated character who’s a male former friend of Lucas and/or Sylvia, writer Kat Candler and director Bota throw us a reversal that Harry, not Lucas, is the real killer of Melissa — apparently they were dating, she threw him over for hot, rich and darkly mysterious Lucas, and Harry never forgave her for jilting him for the rich guy. He got back at her by chasing her through the field and killing her — only in the meantime the police, still investigating the case, have found her body and initially linked her to Lucas via his DNA. Eventually, though, the cops realize the truth after Harry’s violent confrontation with Lucas, in which he wounds him in the face, and ultimately Harry is arrested and there’s a brief period in which the traumas of the case put Lucas and Sylvia on the outs, but they reconcile — or at least start the process — when he shows up at the silent-movie theatre while she’s putting up the marquee letters for a showing of Nosferatu. (Come to think of it, Sunrise might have been a more appropriate choice since it’s a film about an estranged couple who reconcile, but it’s probably still under copyright whereas the films they did use are in the public domain.) Love You to Death is an O.K. movie, but the talent gap between Christine Conradt as both writer and director of The Bride He Bought Online and the work of Candler and Bota here is pretty big; Bota is utterly unable to bring to his work the kind of atmospherics Conradt supplied for Bride (as I noted in yesterday’s comments, Conradt as director mastered the suspense editing and Gothic flavor needed to make a script by Conradt the writer work), and the overall story seems flat and ordinary without Conradt’s flair to make it come alive.