Open 24 Hours

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Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Open 24 Hours
"Much of what follows is routine horror movie stuff but it's given additional weight by writer/director Padraig Reynolds' understanding of the after-effects of trauma."

If there's one characteristic that the vast majority of men convicted of violent crimes have in common, it's that they're violent to the women in their lives as well. For Mary (Vanessa Grasse) the trauma has been particularly severe. Cowed and frightened, forced into things she wanted no part of, she eventually stopped her boyfriend James (Cole Vigue) by setting him on fire when he was sleeping - but after he was exposed as a serial killer and, still alive, made unreachable in prison, the families of some of his victims turned to blaming her for not acting sooner. When we meet her she's done time herself. She's still suffering from paranoid delusions and hallucinations, but she tries to keep them secret because the last thing she wants is to be locked up again. It's time to put the past behind her, to try and live a normal life.

Getting a job on the graveyard shift at a garage in the middle of nowhere might not appeal to most people, but it offers hope to Mary. Not too many people to deal with, a steady routine, nothing complicated to keep track of. Her employer is odd but understanding and her best friend offers to drive her to and from work. but on her first night, strange things start to happen, and because of her mental health problems, Mary can't be sure what's real. She doesn't want to jeopardise her employment with irrational behaviour, but she also has a fundamentally rational fear both of the families who have threatened her and of James. What if he somehow escaped? Would he come after her again?

Much of what follows is routine horror movie stuff but it's given additional weight by writer/director Padraig Reynolds' understanding of the after-effects of trauma. Whilst events in the film might be more far fetched, the central experience of terror is one that many survivors of domestic abuse live with every day in real life. Grasse captures this very effectively, and is also good at exploring the feelings of guilt that Mary carries. There's a lot here about the common experience of freezing or not knowing how to act in distressing situations, and Reynolds does a good job of getting viewers to empathise with this rather than blaming Mary or becoming frustrated with her. We can see that what she's struggling with is more than just material.

The film was made on a low budget but handles that intelligently, making a lot out of its limited locations and using little motifs to guide the viewer's attention without being too blunt. it's a tough watch, both because of the level of distress on display and because of the brutality of some of the crimes we see in flashback, which are much more in-your-face and visceral than is usual for the genre. This matters - like the dramatic, stabbing score - because this is a film not just about violence but about its emotional impact. It shocks us into understanding Mary's state of mind.

There are some nice bits of supporting work here and supporting characters are efficiently developed where they don't have much screen time. Issues arise with the script's reliance on coincidences and unlikely decisions, but if you're willing to bear with that, this is a great example of how to make an effective film with scant resources - and a film that has something to say.

Reviewed on: 19 Jul 2020
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After setting her serial killer boyfriend on fire, a paranoid, delusional woman gets a job at an all-night gas station.
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Director: Padraig Reynolds

Writer: Padraig Reynolds

Starring: Emily Tennant, Brendan Fletcher, Vanessa Grasse, Cole Vigue

Year: 2018

Runtime: 97 minutes

Country: US

Festivals:

Frightfest 2018

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