Review by Victoria Large
Posted on 21 February 2013
Source Digital projection
There aren’t many films like Curfew, written and directed by erstwhile stellastarr* singer and guitarist Shawn Christensen. It begins with a bloody hand reaching weakly for an insistently ringing rotary phone: a gobsmacking image whose twisted promise many filmmakers would struggle to fulfill. But the whole of Curfew is as bracing as those initial frames. Engrossing, bleakly funny, and strikingly shot, Christensen’s film is genuinely revelatory and very tough to shake. And it’s over in less than twenty minutes.
It turns out that the bloodied hand belongs to Richie, a young man lying in his bathtub with a slit wrist, waiting to die. When he answers the phone, it’s his estranged sister Maggie, begging him to watch his niece Sophia for a few hours. “I know you’re not doing anything important,” Maggie huffs, and in an early example of the film’s deadpan humor, Richie only briefly hesitates before he agrees to help his sister out, hoisting himself out of the tub and bandaging up his hemorrhaging wrist. The rest of the film is full of the same nicely understated humor (For example: Maggie’s list of approved hang out spots for Sophia and Richie consists of exactly one place—the bowling alley.), and also a delicate kind of tension. We’re not sure if Richie, pale and hastily bandaged, is going to abandon his niece or bond with her or simply collapse from blood loss.
The characterization, like the tension and the humor, is admirably measured. We get just the brushstrokes we need to understand these deeply vulnerable people, and both of our leads deliver fine performances. Young Fatima Ptacek is excellent as Sophia, a poised fourth grader who melts into wide-eyed kiddishness at just the right moments, and as Richie, director Christensen finds his character’s aching heart, at times looking thoroughly haunted.
Curfew is carefully calibrated and never overplayed, yet it finds room for one of my favorite movie moments in a while—a sudden, surreal and weirdly transcendent dance sequence in the middle of Brooklyn Bowl. It’s a great setpiece that also manages to speak to the film as a whole. Because this story is very much about how life, as much and as deeply as it sometimes hurts, forever retains the power to surprise us.