Written and Directed by Lisa Mikitarian
Horror-comedy SPENT tells the sordid tale of mother-son duo Evelyn and Lonnie Schumacher as they gleefully await the death of miserly patriarch, Herbert. Longing for the goldmine they’re set to inherit after his death, son Lonnie (Barzegar) pictures himself behind the wheel of a sleek sports car with sexpot saleswoman Margot (Mikitarian), while wife Evelyn (Lamothe) embarks on a spending spree with her sleazeball lover, Gregory (Villa). But when Herbert (Nerangis) miraculously recovers, all their dreams of financial freedom are ripped out from under them. Or are they?
SPENT delivers an odd dose of warm-hearted homicide. As both couples scheme to do away with poor Herbert, we enter a bizarre farce involving poisoned pizza and deadly donuts. All this mischief takes place against the sumptuous backdrop of nineteen-fifties(ish) small town America.
The trouble with SPENT is I don’t know what it’s trying to do. It makes a half-hearted attempt to scrutinise consumer-culture – the bad guys spend, the good guys save – but that’s all. There’s one touching scene where Herbert describes working hard to provide for his family, but aside from this the film shows little interest in exploring anything meaningful. It concentrates on being quirky and I can’t say there’s anything inherently wrong with that. That being said, if you’re going to be a kooky comedy be a kooky comedy!
For a horror-comedy, the film is sadly short on shocks or laughs. The culprit for this is its pace. Much of the dialogue, which is stilted at best, is delivered in an awkward staccato style. I’m not sure whether writer-directer Lisa Mikitarian was paying homage to David Lynch’s signature strangeness or not, but the result is a sluggish pantomime. Scenes of plotting and seduction play out at a glacial pace. The funniest moments don’t involve the cast at all; they are the film’s more surreal scenes. One involving mass squirrel slaughter is particularly charming; another with a clockwork rat brought a much-needed smile to my face.
As acting goes, the cast do what they can but the script doesn’t help. Nerangis delivers the most believable performance but has a habit of punctuating his lines with an odd little titter, which slows things down even more. It’s a shame because Herbert is an endearing, engaging character but harder to root for when he’s testing your patience.
The greatest strength of the film is its visuals. It looks GORGEOUS. Lisa Mikitarian shoots vintage Americana with the richest of colour palettes. If you’re anything like me you’ll be drooling at the sight of her sun-drenched setting. Shots of retro costumes, cars and cherry-red lipstick leap off the screen. Although the time period of the story gets muddled at times – fifties outfits appear alongside nineties computers and smartphones – that doesn’t take away too much from the overall look of the film.
In the end, SPENT feels more like a work-in-progress than the finished thing. Its vivid cinematography and atmospheric score are sadly undermined by stiff acting and poor dialogue. I wish SPENT was as strong as its strengths, but regrettably it isn’t. The result is a baffling, albeit intermittently entertaining, jumble of a film.