Film Score: Keith Schreiner Cinematography: T.J. Civis
Starring: Elle Poindexter, Christopher D. Harder, Aaron McPherson and Benedict Herrmann
Recovery, by Mike Prosser, is one of the more recent examples of this phenomenon. The title is a good one, doing duty on several levels. There is the emotional recovery of a family after a tragic loss, the recovery of a password protected computer folder that may explain the tragedy, and the physical recovery of one of the family members after her own tragic accident. That multi-layered aspect of the title is also carried over into the director’s screenplay. While the film has the feel of a supernatural thriller, it takes its time in getting to that aspect of the story, allowing the viewer to get to know the characters in what almost feels like real time. And that pacing works well in establishing the viewer’s concern for the characters as they wrestle with their conflicting emotions. Prosser has used a wide range of storytelling techniques in filming this edgy family drama, mixing “European-style art-house drama with Japanese and B-movie horror elements” and “drawing inspiration from Ordinary People and the original Pulse.” And while that might seem an odd mix of genres it has resulted in an extraordinary cinematic experience.
The film opens on a quote from Nietzsche, “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster.” Then the music begins, and the singing on the soundtrack quickly cuts to Chris Harder as the front man of a band while the credits roll. It’s not until Harder gets into his car, an ultrasound photo on the passenger seat, that the establishing text of Portland, OR is seen. At home he makes what appears to be a suicide call to a number that doesn’t answer, while elsewhere in town Marilyn Faith Hickey dreams of her baby crying and not being able to help. Harder then pulls a gun out of drawer, listens to a loving message from his wife on the answering machine, and fires the gun into his mouth. From there the scene shifts to an artist’s studio in Brooklyn. Elle Poindexter wakes up to a phone call, and then walks topless into the bathroom to wash her face. There she flashes back to an appointment with her doctor, Mike Prosser, who tells her the accident she was in will prevent her from having children. At an art gallery the next morning her boyfriend, Richard Topping, tells her he has gotten another woman pregnant and she rushes out in anger. He picks up the crumpled note she was going to leave him and that’s when the audience learns that she is Harder’s sister and she is going back to Portland for her brother’s funeral.
Harder’s widow, Jennifer Skyler, is pregnant and comes over to Hickey’s house with her small girl, Linden Hosack, while Hickey’s husband, Benedict Herrmann, brings his daughter, Poindexter, home from the airport. In her brother’s old room Poindexter flashes back to a discussion she and her brother had about religion, and then tries to get into his computer. Downstairs, Herrmann notices an extra place setting, which has been put there for Harder’s therapist, Aaron McPherson, the character who holds the secret to Harder’s death. Throughout the film, Prosser weaves several narrative strands together. One is a series of mysterious phone calls to everyone in the family that actually starts with Poindexter in the beginning of the film and seems to hint at communication from beyond the grave. Another is the religious philosophy and iconography of Harder’s that is an extension of his father’s strict religious beliefs. There is also the accident that has left Poindexter unable to have children, and the relationship that Harder had with McPherson before seeking his help as a psychologist. As a director, Mike Prosser has an impressive visual style that includes the use of overlapping images, especially in the flashback sequences, extreme close ups and a moving camera, all of which closely mirror the story rather than being used simply for effect. At the same time, the director does a tremendous job of creating increasingly disturbing images as the film moves toward a very satisfying climax.
Though the film overall is impressive there are some inescapable flaws, but this is to be expected in low budget, independent films. Young directors with solid visual conceptions are rarely as accomplished as writers, and must typically be given time and resources in order to allow their writing to catch up to their imagery. Unfortunately that rarely happens, as the money generally isn’t there for future projects. In this case the lack of polish is in the screenplay is overly emphasized by the generally poor acting, another pitfall in independent filmmaking. On its own, the writing actually has some engaging moments, and while the more uninspired moments could have been overlooked had they been in the hands of better actors, that doesn’t happen here. It’s the plot itself that is forced to carry the picture, and while along with the visuals it is strong in many respects, it’s not quite enough, and falls short of the greatness it was aiming for. The things that are good about the film, however, are very good. Even the open credits sequence stands out. The suicide montage is also excellent, allowing the viewer to sense the impending act while not necessarily making it so abundantly clear that it precludes any other possibility. The short sequence with Elle Poindexter in the bathroom and the flashback to her doctor are also cleverly done. The fact is, the flashbacks are really at the heart of the film, and the viewer’s impatience with the present timeline as it seems to get in the way of the revelations in the backstory only adds to the suspense of the film.
But Prosser also has a sense of humor, and in one of the flashback sequences he uses sound design to great comic effect as both Harder and McPherson move from the front to the back seat of McPherson’s car. Other moments of humor include the self-referencing nature of the screenplay, something that might be off putting to certain viewers but I thought were great. In a subtle homage to Jaws--hopefully intended--McPherson brings over both a bottle of red and white wine to dinner. And later, as he drives Poindexter to a bar to get a drink, a pretentious line from the psychologist gets turned into a reference to Titanic by his passenger. Though Elle Poindexter is the nominal lead in the film, and she does a solid job in her role, some of the best acting in the film comes from Benedict Herrmann as her father. The other standout is Eric Martin Reid as an old crush of Poindexter’s. In fact, he’s so good that one wishes he could have been cast in the crucial role played by Aaron McPherson. While Chris Harder is the axis around which the story revolves, his screen time is minimal and doesn’t allow him to explore the full range of his talents. The film score by Keith Schreiner is definitely on point, and assists Prosser perfectly in getting several genuine scares throughout the film. While the acting in Recovery definitely lets the production down, there are plenty of positives that make this indie film worth seeking out.