Saturday, May 01, 2004

Nightingale in a Music Box

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 1 May 2004 at Somerville Theater #4 (Independant Film Festival of Boston 2004)

So, here's a nifty idea - a woman is found in a top-secret portion of a biotech company working on memory suppression technology, her mind a blank, and a top-secret formula in her hand. She's no spy - she's a mother of two who works as a realtor, with no skills to get past tight security. To try and figure out what happened, a woman who used to work in the intelligence community deprogramming brainwashees and now works for the UN agency overseeing this biotech company's operation is brought in.

It's a promising science fiction concept. Unfortunately, Nightingale in a Music Box is crushed under its low budget and a script that is both painfully talky and guilty of dancing around something really obvious. Taking the last first, it seems to take Edwina Burke (Kelley Hazen) an eternity to connect the work done by the company that the woman's husband works for to her memory loss. Sure, Robin (Catherine O'Connor) shows every sign of psychological conditioning, but even if that's what seems logical, everyone in the audience knows that the formula Robin was apparently stealing could have been for anything. We know that the MacGuffin being memory erasure is important, so we keep waiting for the other shoe to drop.

And the getting there... Ugh. The cast isn't bad, and Ms. Hazen manages the pages upon pages of technobabble she's given to spout well, but that's part of the problem. The entire movie is too clinical. Maybe writer/director/editor Hurt McDermott has studied brainwashing and deprogramming to the extent where he knows much more than the average screenwriter knows about their subject and is determined to get it right. Maybe it's just a case of a writer (and a first-time filmmaker at that) falling in love with his script and not bearing to cut anything at any junction. Whatever the reason, this movie is excrutiating to watch. It's clinical, for lack of a better word; Burke is so even-toned and professional throughout that it saps any energy or interest out of the initially fascinating concept. And the budget is so low that all the filmmaker has to work with is the same few people talking on the same few locations. So we don't actually see Robin captured, and there's very little to break up an endless stream of psychobabble. Makes for a long 96 minutes of movie.

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