With its synth-heavy score, outrageously loud fashion, and gritty Toronto cityscapes devoid of skyscrapers, the Canadian buddy-cop movie Going In feels like a long-lost cultural artifact, a tax-shelter flick from the ‘80s whose lone VHS cassette copy was accidentally chucked into the trash after the closing of the city’s very last video-rental store, only to be accidentally unearthed today. Yet the film directed, written and starring first-time filmmaker Evan Rissi, is in fact a brand-new production. Or new-ish.
It has taken seven long years for Rissi to bring his contemporary vision of a lost ‘80s classic – “The movie from 1989 that Canada deserved but never received!” as he puts it – to the screen. While no one working in this country’s film sector will say that it is an easy one to navigate, Rissi underwent a particularly gruelling set of challenges. From an up-and-down crowd-funding campaign to a constant stream of funding and festival rejections to the tumultuous shifts of the pandemic, it is no small feat that Going In exists at all.
Yet without tapping into a single public fund – there is no Telefilm funding here, nor the participation of any arts councils – Rissi has made what he hopes will be, if not a new Canadian cult classic, then at least proof there is a path for homegrown filmmakers to work outside the system. And he did it all for just $80,000.
“If you only hear ‘no’ for four or five years straight, that gets pretty bleak and taxing,” Rissi recalls today. “But we have a movie. We got a distribution deal. It’s been a huge learning process, but it’s turning the corner.”
Going In first took shape in 2016, when Rissi shot a proof-of-concept video for an Indiegogo campaign, with the goal of raising $100,000 (it topped out at $44,499). The goal then was to shoot a semi-spoof of the kind of ‘80s crime movies that Rissi grew up loving: Ridley Scott’s Black Rain, Luc Besson’s Subway, Michael Mann’s Thief. But as the idea developed, Going In became less of a farce and more a movie that would tip-toe the line between meta-comedy and straight-up thriller, while still maintaining its lost-to-time aesthetic.
“It was paramount for us to emulate that era’s style, so we used vintage anamorphic glass lenses, ‘80s-standard lighting, the appropriate editing techniques,” says Rissi. “And the story needed to be weird enough – and genre-heavy enough – that it feels dead-serious about being ridiculous.”
The resulting tale follows straight-arrow philosophy professor Leslie (Rissi, whose performance has a self-knowingly goofy Sam Rockwell vibe) and his more street-smart friend Reuben (Ira Goldman) as they try to stem the flow of a new synthetic drug called Pearl from overwhelming the mean streets of Toronto. There are subway-station shoot-outs, underground-club dance-offs, and one extended out-of-body sequence that recalls John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China filtered through the sugary haze of a Saturday morning cartoon. With a large cast and plethora of faux-retro touches (including Matthew Chalmers’ Tangerine Dream-inspired score), Going In is an ambitious passion project that looks like it cost at least 10 times its budget. Which is ironically fitting, given that it also took about 10 times longer to make than anticipated.
After the Indiegogo campaign stalled – “Crowd-funding was a mixed bag, so many projects never reach the finish line,” says Rissi– the next few years were spent trying, and often failing, to shore up additional funding.
“It was pretty much ‘nos’ across the board, which was unfortunate but hardened my resolve,” says the filmmaker, who supported himself throughout the process with acting and copy-writing jobs. “You have to be stubborn to be in this line of work.”
After shooting the non-union film in the fall of 2018 and spring of 2019, it was another round of rejections to secure resources for post-production, which finally started in February, 2020 – right as the pandemic hit. The next two years were a slog of submitting an unfinished version of the film to festivals, holding a private screening to drum up interest, and “basically no real movement,” according to Rissi. But then the folks at Canadian comic-book publisher Lev Gleason Studios (owners of Captain Canuck) got a hold of a screening link and came on board as executive producers to help Going In get over the finish line.
“The way that Evan was able to capture the distinct look and feel of Toronto in the late ‘80s, with such a level of craft in the context of the film’s scale, was a delight to take in,” says Matt Orenstein, vice-president of acquisitions and strategy for Vortex Media, which came aboard as the film’s Canadian distributor. “It’s very surprising that it didn’t have the opportunity to matriculate through the normal festival cycle in Canada given how strong it is.”
Going In will enjoy a one-night theatrical stand at the Paradise theatre in Toronto this Thursday before becoming available digitally on Amazon and Apple TV starting Dec. 19. (It will also be available to stream on the ad-supported service Tubi in the United States.)
“Being a neophyte to the whole industry at the start of this, it was taxing but also rejuvenating. Not to sound cheesy, but when you work on a project like this for so long, you have to really like it to keep going,” says Rissi, who is now developing his second feature. “It all comes back to people giving so much of their time and energy because they believed in it.”
Going In premieres Nov. 30 at 7:30 p.m. at the Paradise in Toronto (paradiseonbloor.com).