DIE, MY DEAR
Directed by Mathew Kalamane
They say revenge is a dish best served cold. In this stunning debut from writer/ director Mathew Kalamane, it’s in the salad. Initially this was a film I had no intention of reviewing. Rather I was putting in on to make up for my last week’s viewing, in which I had the misfortune of watching both Escape Room (sight) and The Open House (double sigh). But as soon as the credits started crawling I knew it’d be a late one, as I simply had to tell our dear reader about it.
So you get bad separations, then there’s this: Victor (Burks) and Miranda (McCauley), a long time married couple, make War of the Roses look like The Brady Bunch. Trying, one last time, to patch things up they agree on a dinner date to see if there’s still a side of love with their hate. For both, there’s a dark motive to their presence, yet also the signs of a sincerity and hope that the most important person in their lives isn’t gone forever. However, it’s not long before what little optimism they had is worn down in light of old tensions, resulting in the same dysfunction that likely came to characterise their final years together. Having had too much, independently of one another each poisons their partner’s meal. With their fates sealed, there’s nothing to do but wait for it to take effect, and hopefully live long enough to see an ex die in front of their eyes.
For a first feature, Kalamane’s script is exemplary, demonstrating a natural talent that would be equally at home on stage as the screen. By picking a chamber structure, with almost the entire film being limited to a single location and a cast of two, he hasn’t made it easy for himself. The simple setting forces their relationship to be the story, and there’s neither the space nor money for flashy visuals (that being said, there’s some good trickery in the perspective scenes). Yet he more than rises to the challenge. It’s a small scale thriller that truly delivers. Both the monologues and dialogues are word perfect, except a groan-inducing bit of dramatic irony early on. It’s fast-paced, stylish and layered with meaning. Hell, I could gladly listen to them talk about nothing and everything for another 90 minutes, jumping between raw resentment and tenderness in the same sentence. For the second half, when their situation gets grave, it’s understandably more sparse but nonetheless retains it’s realism. Most importantly, the characters are the best sort – not necessarily deserving of your full sympathies, but both familiar and feeling very human in spite of their many flaws.
What’s amazing about the film is the depth of feeling they have for one another, equally good and bad, plus how well it sells its slightly silly premise without lapsing into melodrama. This is helped along by two stunning leads, whose work I’m otherwise sadly unfamiliar with. They give the piece an authenticity, doing the full range of emotions well: restraint, insecurity, hate and regret alike. Then as both get sicker, succumbing to their illness, there’s a brave physicality to their performances. A few laugh out loud lines aside, what could easily be played for black comedy is, instead, superbly performed as a tragedy. Any sentimentality is undermined by the brutal setup, but that doesn’t mean there’s no warmth to it.
There are, perhaps, some slightly misguided and surprisingly cliched set-pieces involving hallucinations. In fairness, at their best they’re an organic way to explore the character’s fears and baggage. However, in film’s that’s otherwise so minimalist, at their worst they feel an uncharacteristically direct way of filling in the backing story. Nonetheless, it’s rewarding, and deeply moving, to see Victor and Miranda work together, supporting one another, through their fantasies. It’s powerful that only when facing death do we see how happy they could have been together: the heart of the relationship still beats despite the pain and hurt. Their delusions also make for an intense second act, meaning there’s little of the slow down I’d have expected to be built into the premise, creating an urgency about the third. Yet it’s when things slow down again that the movie at its best.
The closing moments, which bookend it, are masterfully judged. A transcendent, bittersweet finale that reminds us you don’t need big stars, blood or a huge budget to do great horror. Rather it can be a decent story, a solid cast and compelling drama. Die, My Dear has all three and really deserves more recognition. Had I seen it a few months ago it’d definitely have made my top 5 for 2017, sitting comfortably with such masterpieces as Gerald’s Game and Raw. But then, as it goes some lengths to reminds us, it’s no good hanging on to past mistakes.
Die, Dear Die is available for streaming on demand and Amazon Prime.