By Elias Savada.
Irish director Michael Lennox has been to the Oscars – for his 2014 film Boogaloo and Graham, a heartwarming comedy short. It lost, but at least people (well, Academy voters) saw it. Now, Lennox has gone over to the dark side with his feature debut, A Patch of Fog, a low-budget noir entry with some familiar faces chewing up the Belfast evening scenery. Originally screened in the Discovery section of the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, the film has not been seen by many, but online audiences (at least in America) do have a chance to catch this enjoyable-but-wish-it-was-better page-turner on VOD and iTunes.
Comfortably living off his royalties from a 25-year-old eponymous novel, celebrated author Sandy Duffy (Conleth Hill) is a daring but cautionary fellow. He drives a luxury car, has a coveted teaching and chairman position at the university, and is a well-known opinion-maker on Night Vision, a weekly television talk show hosted by Lucy Walsh (Lara Pulver), a single mom. They’re working a relationship outside of the studio that seems to be evolving. He’s protective of his past, even though it was the centerpiece of his book. There’s some undescribed emotional baggage he’s carrying around, which he deals with by a nonsensical penchant for petty pilferage.
Whether he’s stealing cufflinks from a designer boutique or knick-knacks from a small convenience store, Sandy is looking for a thrill in an otherwise private life, one he’s tired of by the incessant promotion of his one and only book. Oblivious to the danger of being caught, a squirrelly nobody who is apparently one of Sandy’s most avid viewers becomes his clinging sidekick. Robert (Stephen Graham), a Wyse Byse store security guard catches Sandy and won’t let him off – without a favor, or two, or three. No sooner than they have a drink together, the leech begins to suck his host dry. Like the snakes he keeps as pets, the outer milquetoast skin of Robert quickly molts, revealing a conniving reptile. A venomous one.
For a while, Lennox follows each of these men as their “friendship” develops and each plots his next steps – one cunningly proactive, the other anxiously preventative. Trust is a constant issue, particularly for the delusional Robert, who fashions himself a facilitator, whereas his prey sees him as a crazed fan and control freak. This battlefield provides ample cat-and-mouse adventures.
Sandy and Robert’s bonds push and pull them together and apart as their emotions dance about the hackneyed screenplay by rookie feature writers John Cairns and Michael McCartney, usually as Robert’s video evidence of Sandy’s extra-curricular thievery and other evening shenanigans is produced by cat and seemingly dealt with by mouse. The writing is a bit contrived with occasional coincidences that push the realms of believability.
The director offers up a steady build of tension aided by mostly nocturnal activity and guided by director of photography Matthias Pilz’s hand-held work. The camerawork offers a slightly out-of-focus documentary sheen that plays to the film’s intimate (i.e., small cast) framework. It is the film’s two leading men that offer the best reason to catch the film. Graham, relentlessly evil as Al Capone in the HBO series Boardwalk Empire (2010-14), has been a fine character actor for over 25 years, including comedic spins in the last and next installments in the Pirates of the Caribbean (2003- ) franchise (basing his Scrum as part Artful Dodger and part Les Dawson, the English television comic and writer). Game of Thrones (2011- ) fans will remember Hill as the manipulative Lord Varys, the bald-head eunuch and confidant of Tyrion Lannister. There’s a bit of that slyness afoot in A Patch of Fog, but tempered with a wavering anxiety.
While they were cast just a week before filming began, both actors show how quickly and finely they can fit into their characters here.
The ending, figuratively and literally ends in just the kind of atmospheric conditions you expect, under rickety writing circumstances. I wouldn’t bet on any favorite here. Sometimes dealing with your biggest fan is a weight that you just have to live with.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the horror film German Angst and the new documentary Nuts! He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (the revised edition will be published in 2017 by Centipede Press).