The typical Hollywood thriller features an accepted psychological lacuna: As long as the hero and his intimates get out alive, we have a happy ending. The enduring trauma that might be caused by being held at gunpoint by international terrorists, chased through the woods by an axe-wielding mad man or dangled by the toes off a suspension bridge is washed away with a tight hug or a deep kiss.
Repeaters, a small but interesting thriller from Vancouver director Carl Bessai with a script by Arne Olsen, cleverly codifies that formula by placing its heroes in a day that is unendingly repeated, erasing its many horrors as it begins again each morning.
Kyle, Sonia and Michael (played by Dustin Milligan, Amanda Crew and Richard de Klerk) are three young addicts in a grim drug-rehab facility in Mission, B.C. Given their first day pass, they attempt, on the advice of their counsellor, to make peace with various relations, but find it's impossible. Kyle's sister, a high-school student he stole from, won't speak to him and the principal warns him off the school property. Sonia can't bring herself to enter the hospital room where her abusive father lies dying. When Michael visits his father in jail, the man violently blames his "dope fiend" son for the 10-year sentence he's serving.
The trio enter the cafeteria the next morning and find that the notches Sonia has carved in a table to mark off the days in rehab still stand at 92 instead of 93. Then a lout who trips Michael up tries the exact same trick again.
If you had a bad day to live over what would you do? The audience, no dummies here, knows perfectly well the answer to that one: Make amends, kids, correct mistakes. We remember Groundhog Day; we've seen Being Erica. But Bessai, whose recent work includes those bitter pseudo-documentary examinations of family relations Mothers & Daughters and Fathers & Sons, is not a sentimental director. He has got some interesting places to go before he leads Sonia and Kyle, at least, to their inevitable moments of reconciliation and forgiveness.
The trio flirt briefly with the idea of rectifying wrong - the first of their repeated mornings they arrive too late at a dam to save a jumper they had heard about on the evening news - before Michael gets the point: If every day is just a repeat of Wednesday, wiping out any previous version of the day's events, you can do whatever you want. At first the other two go along with his escapades, robbing a liquor store and running out of a bar without paying the tab - until Michael realizes he can literally get away with rape and murder. The film then develops into a chilling contest between an increasingly righteous Kyle and an increasingly crazy Michael to see who can get up first in the morning and stop the other's plans.
This is never quite as taut as it needs to be - the possibility that tomorrow will finally be Thursday is underplayed - and the Manichean struggle becomes a bit facile. In particular, the single notes sounded by Milligan's performance as the saddened and fundamentally decent Kyle and by Crew's perpetually weepy Sonia become wearing. With a meatier role to play, de Klerk has a lot more staying power as the apparently amoral Michael.
Truth is, if the film were bigger budget - that is, if larger and more impressive explosions and chase scenes were taking place onscreen - an audience could probably be distracted from these bland characterizations. As it stands, Repeaters does not do full psychological justice to its clever premise.
- Directed by Carl Bessai
- Written by Arne Olsen
- Starring Dustin Milligan, Amanda Crew and Richard de Klerk
- Rating: 14A