Sets up quickly, delivers its tragedy, and then watches its heroine slowly spiral down one of two paths: abject madness or a horrifying truth.
Indie filmmakers will try anything – and god bless them for doing it – to fund their next film. Options have ranged from begging family and friends for cash and giving producer credits to financial donors to maxing out credit cards and becoming laboratory test subjects-for-hire (I’m lookin’ at you, Robert Rodriguez). The filmmakers behind Putney are taking a different approach: they are streaming their previous effort – indie horror film Lyle – free during their 45-day Putney fundraising campaign. If Putney is even remotely as good as Lyle, these folks should pull in some serious coin.
Leah (Gaby Hoffmann) and June (Ingrid Jungermann) are a lesbian couple who have found a cozy apartment in New York City where they can raise their toddler daughter, Lyle, and their soon-to-be-born baby. New York is also where June can pursue her singing career. One fateful day, while June is away in the recording studio and Leah is Skyping with a friend while unpacking boxes, Lyle meets a deadly accidental fate.
Fast-forward six months and Leah is almost ready to deliver their baby. But she just isn’t right. She remains haunted by the loss of her child, and as she begins to see things (maybe?) and hear things (maybe?), she starts to suspect a greater, supernaturally evil force is at work – something that took her first child from her. She also suspects that her landlady Karen (Rebecca Street), as well as Taylor (Kim Allen), the fashion model she befriends who lives upstairs, might also be involved.
Lyle is a sensational film, and the key to its success is its simplicity. Writer/director Stewart Thorndike‘s lithe character-driven tale doesn’t bog itself down with a heavy backstory, nor does it linger too long in its tension-filled scenes or wring its hands with melodrama. It sets up quickly, delivers its tragedy, and then watches its heroine slowly spiral down one of two paths: abject madness or a horrifying truth – and only the end knows for sure. The excellent cast is minimal, with just six main characters, and very little of the action takes place outside of the couple’s apartment building. The sum of it is reminiscent of a classic radio show like Suspense, and it could easily be adapted for the stage.
As the devastated mother coming apart at the seams, Hoffmann performs with pitch-perfection. The actress gives a highlight-reel performance, instinctively knowing where Leah’s psyche should be in a given scene, or at a given point in the film’s timeline, and delivering lines and emotion and so many subtle little things with great believability. The rest of the cast is fine in support.
Thorndike also illustrates some fine technical acumen to go along with her creative skills. Her camera positions and blocking are at times unconventional (in the best possible ways), she uses jump-scares appropriately sparingly, she maximizes silence, and she utilizes ambient noise with the best of them.
If only the film had been longer. While there is barely any fat on the production, and while excessive things that bog down other films don’t exist here, a 62-minute runtime is just too short, and ultimately it’s the accelerated end of the film that suffers. I don’t know if the decision to keep the film the length of an extended television episode was creative or financial; if it was the former, Thorndike needs a meatier script so she can open up her directorial throttle. If it was the latter … well, that’s indie filmmaking, I suppose. While the comparisons to Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968) are obvious, I was also reminded of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense (1999) in that the reveal at the end of the film sent my mind reeling back to the clues I should have seen.
Lyle, a favorite at 2014’s Outfest, can indeed be screened for free at www.lylemovie.com during the drive to raise funds for Putney.