DIRECTED BY: Pablo D’Stair
FEATURING: Carlyle Edwards, Helen Bonaparte, Goodloe Byron
PLOT: Steven (Carlyle Edwards) is a self-serving, amoral author of very mediocre talent. When he stumbles across a crayon-scribbled “missing child” poster with a telephone number and the words “HLEPP ME?” scrawled on it, he figures it to be harmless. Deciding to base a story around it, he calls the number. This leads to an encounter with Bryant (Goodloe Byron) who claims to have actually kidnapped a girl, stating she will be released only if Steven pays a $2,000 ransom within two weeks. Steven initially dismisses Bryant as a morbid prankster—until Bryant begins a relationship with his only friend, Rene (Helen Bonaparte) and starts popping up in his life in apparently coincidental, yet increasingly invasive and unsettling ways.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: To give it its due, this isn’t a wholly terrible film, though it is lacking in certain important factors. That said, the compelling aspects do not come from anything markedly weird, and as such it has no place on the List of weird movies.
COMMENTS: The central premise of A Public Ransom is fascinating: the wrong person finds a cry for help, someone who doesn’t have an altruistic bone in his body. The events that follow can’t be faulted. Indeed, the writing overall is excellent, and it’s not D’Stair’s failing with a pen which make this difficult to view. He casts an impressive shadow with his scripting, and the small cast largely live up to the characters D’Stair has written and fleshed out so well. Lead actor Carlyle Edwards is teeth-grittingly unpleasant as the utter and complete prick Steven. His performance seems a little too mannered at first, but his overwrought, overbearing and obnoxious personality truly matches that of someone who has no awareness of their own obvious shortcomings. Awful people really are like this. Helen Bonaparte tries her best as Stevens’ foil, but her performance is stilted and flat by comparison. It’s difficult to believe in the friendship between them when it lacks such chemistry, especially in some of the more pivotal later scenes. Goodloe Byron’s turn as Bryant is purposefully bland, which really makes his character work for the better. He is very mild mannered and unobtrusive, which makes him all the more disturbing given the possible nature of his actions.
All this is well and good, but a smart script and a functional cast can’t save a film if the director and photographer’s auteur vision is so painfully marred by an inability to hold a camera. Paul VanBrocklin is director D’Stair’s head of photography, and between the two of them they seem barely able to frame a shot in any workable way. The film itself looks ugly, and is a major turn off. It’s true that an amateur film maker might not have access to a high quality camera or a steadicam or the like to make tracking shots work. But ugly, dull and unimaginatively presented still scenes permeate the film to such a point that, while you can see the intent behind the director’s approach (his desire to imitate his influences such as Jim Jarmusch), the whole thing ends up being a poorly shot and poorly lit mess that drags the viewer away from the strength of the writing. It’s a film with a lot of heart and D’stair should be proud of it for what it is, as it’s head and shoulders above a lot of amateur independent film, making but if he was to turn out another feature it would need to show marked technical improvement to earn a general recommendation.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“… D’Stair’s cinematic selection is artistically interpretive to say the least, and may not be for everyone.”–Amy Handler, Film Threat (contemporaneous)
More information on A Public Ransom, including a link and a password to view the movie for yourself (at the time of publication), can be found at the official A Public Ransom site.