They Are Watching
In the aftermath of personal tragedy, 30-something Parker (Lindsay Farris) takes on a mysterious private investigation assignment to observe and report on the happenings of a young woman Tenneal (Stephanie King), living in a city apartment. As time slowly passes in his lonely, derelict observation room, Parker begins to break down as he reflects upon the loss of his young son, losing sleep and eventually, his sanity.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954). Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation (1974). Two films that were clearly big inspirations for co-writer/director Joseph Sims-Dennett, Bad Behaviour (2010), with obsessive watching, paranoia and slow-growing personal interest being as key to Observance as they were to those two aforementioned thrillers. How tragic then that it all amounts to … well, nothing.
For a movie like this to work, the audience have to become as invested in looking for details and clues as the protagonist. While Joseph Sims-Dennett and co-writer Josh Zammit attempt to build a tragic backstory around the central character of Parker, it just never truly connects as it’s mostly told through surrealist fragments that, while pretty to look at, tend to drag and alienate.
Perhaps alienation is the main driving theme here and as such, it could be argued that this is how Observance really works. But there is a key difference between being involved within a narrative and simply being uninvested. In a word, ‘bored’.
Although the acting is all quite good, especially from lead Lindsay Farris, Primal (2010), and the object of his gaze, newcomer Stephanie King, the greatest tragedy is that there isn’t much room for these actors to move or beef up their characters.
A decent concept with potential to grow lies at the heart of Observance, but it never goes beyond that. In all honesty, the final product feels like a first draft that never got the feedback it needed for further development and polishing. The result is a film that even at 90 minutes is too long and would have worked better as a short, especially when one realizes that after all the build-up and slow pacing, that really was ‘it’. ‘It’ being a whole lot of nothing.
Considering the rough nature of the script and that the film was quickly made on a credit card budget, one would assume there’d be no room for technical care and artistry. On the contrary, Observance boasts careful sound design by David Gaylard, StalkHer (2015), and David Williams, The Dressmaker (2015), and decent cinematography by Rodrigo Vidal-Dawson. It’s worth remembering though, that such things are all for naught if there isn’t a great story guiding it.
My main source of conflict in reviewing Observance is that while the script is outright poor, the realization of the (poor) material is actually quite decent and I have to say, it has tickled my interest in seeing how Joseph Sims-Dennett could grow as a director. Just please, please, Joe — take your time in pre-production and don’t write your own scripts.
2 / 5 – Average
Reviewed by Steve Ramsie
Observance is released through Umbrella Entertainment Australia
I’ve been waiting to hear what other people have to say about Observance since I saw its premiere last year at Fantasia. I feel exactly the same way but thing is, the director himself seems to appreciate the ambiguity of the script although sometimes, is it the right thing to do?