Synopsis – A psychiatrist, whose client commits suicide, finds his family life disrupted after introducing her surviving brother to his wife and daughter.
My Take – The most distinctive element of a psychological thriller is that there is always an incentive behind the motivation. Despite their scarcity of being actually good, psychological thrillers in general can be quite fun to watch especially when they are well acted, well-written and come with a tasty twist at the end. While cinema like such used to be a staple more than a decade ago, now they have mostly delegated themselves as background releases with lesser stars and nonsensical titles attached to them, with an occasional surprise among them.
Unfortunately, despite starring a well-respected and familiar cast, the latest from director Vaughn Stein, who has earlier directed Terminal (2018), the weird Margot Robbie led crime-noir, and Inheritance (2020), the wacky B-film with an outlandish premise, is not one of them. Though the film seems to be plotted like thrill-a-minute thriller, it just never comes close to earning its place among the better films of the sub-genre of cinema and works instead more like a watered down version of Cape Fear (1991), just with a finicky screenplay and anti-twists sprinkled around it.
It also doesn’t help that the story-line employed harkens back to a different time, and the screenplay lacks any kind of originality. It’s a psychological thriller that leaves most of the psychology buried and unexplored. Though screenwriter David Murray seems to be putting in some efforts in the thrill department, his use of familiar and classic tropes is what ultimately sends the film barreling into mediocrity. Leaving us with a story begging for more detail and led by under-cooked characters with thinly sketched motivations, far too boring to ever work.
The story follows Philip Clark (Casey Affleck), a psychiatrist, who along with his wife, Grace (Michelle Monaghan), a local realtor, and daughter Lucy (India Eisley), is still mourning the loss of their young son, who died in a car accident a few years ago. Finding himself unable to connect to his distant wife and troubled teenage daughter, Philip copes by throwing himself into his work, especially into the treatment of Daphne (Emily Alyn Lind), a troubled young woman, with whom he undertakes a nontraditional approach by sharing his own personal struggle regarding his unspeakable loss as a method to get her to open up.
Unfortunately, though Daphne seems to be on the recovering side initially, a sudden tragedy on her side, causes her to relapse and commit suicide. However, Philip’s life takes a turn for worse when he invites Daphne’s surviving brother James (Sam Claflin) into his home, inadvertently allowing him to tear his family apart.
With thrillers and like-minded films, a certain amount of suspension of disbelief is required, here, despite the promising cast and seemingly intriguing plot-line, the film just doesn’t do enough to make itself stand out in the genre. Though the film aims to unsettle you at every turn, its disregard for your intelligence keeps that from ever happening as we can see what is going to happen is a mile away. One of the main reasons is the lack of mystery shrouded within the film.
You can see the events unfolding in a progression that just felt like it was straight out of any other film from the genre. Too quickly, we are given the pieces to understand not only what is going on but who is behind the film’s supposed mystery. While the film is intriguing enough to keep your attention, it doesn’t have enough meat to get one truly invested. Even the narrative exposition like the conversations shared between Phillip and Dr. Vanessa Fanning (Veronica Ferres) following the death of his Daphne which are supposed to push the narrative forward, feel rudimentary.
While the film initially appears to be about rumination on trauma in the wake of loss, with deep examinations on grief and loneliness, it never dives deep into the each character’s unique individuality. For example, Grace is always shrill and defensive without much reason, while Philip is just mumbling glumly throughout. It’s hard to say whether it is because we have heard this story before in one way or another, or if the lack of empathy for the characters leaves little in the way of fear regarding their well-being.
Sure, director Vaughn Stein tries to rouse some tension down the stretch, but by that point, the film has fed all plausibility leading into a lackluster finale that resolves its main leaves viewers feeling like everything was tied up in a neat little bow, allowing the viewers and characters alike to move on after everything wrapped up.
The film is also a perfect example of a cast raising the bar on a damp squib project. Though Casey Affleck’s performance initially comes off as bland, but as the story develops, you realize the aloofness is part of his character’s response to the loss of his son and trying to repress his trauma. As the film progresses, you can see his tight handle on controlling his emotions begin to slip away. Michelle Monaghan comes closest to molding a full-dimensional human out of her character. She does well especially in scenes where she lets out torrents of emotions, like recounting the accident. India Eisley flawlessly implements the mannerisms of the perfect angst filled teen.
However, it is Sam Claflin who is probably having the most fun in his role. Here, Claflin turns his winning persona into a reasonably convincing, overplayed psycho nut whose smile is so untrustworthy, it’s only a notch or two down the chain from Jack Nicholson. In other roles, Emily Alyn Lind does well enough with whatever she is offered while, German actress Veronica Ferres, who also serves as a producer on the film, is duly wasted in a thankless role. On the whole, ‘Every Breath You Take’ is flimsily written psychological thriller that is utterly forgettable and squanders the cast’s collective talent in the process.
Directed – Vaughn Stein
Rated – R
Run Time – 105 minutes