He Had a Camera Pointed at the Toilet?
Main Cast: Nick Stahl
Director: Randall Cole
James (Nick Stahl, Terminator 3) and Amy (Mia Kirshner, “24”) are a regular movie couple. They have a beautiful house, James has a great job as an ad man, and they seem relatively happy, doing things together like jogging and whatnot. In movie land, this is about as good as it gets without crossing into filthy rich territory. Then one day, someone starts watching them.
The voyeur discovers where James has hidden a key to the house and, while the couple are out one day, sneaks in and places hidden camera all over the house. He also leaves an anonymous CD in James’s car, leading to an argument between the couple as to where it came from. Maybe you just forgot you made it, Amy says, sometimes you forget things. Oh, James replies, like when I drink?
It appears there’s a crack in this relationship.
That day, James comes home from work to find a note from Amy saying she needs to get away and “clear her head”. But that’s really unlike Amy, so James starts asking around, and so far, none of her friends or family have any idea where she is.
He is, understandably, concerned.
James’s friend Alex, picking up on a clue in one of the songs on the mystery CD, wonders if it might be Bill, an old classmate the two terrorized in school. James thinks that’s possible, and a few visits to his old chum lead, eventually, to James murdering and then burying Bill. And all the while the voyeur watches.
388 Arletta Avenue, written and directed by Randall Cole, is a very tense and paranoid movie, wonderfully acted by the underrated Nick Stahl. I was not a fan of Stahl in the third Terminator movie, but then that movie pretty much shit on the franchise anyway and should never have existed. Still, I never gave Stahl the credit he obviously deserves until now. He portrays James’s downward spiral perfectly and I sympathized with him completely and kept praying worse didn’t come to worst and he eventually found his missing wife, alive, and was able to bring the bad guy to justice–or kill him.
The story is told through the hidden cameras, so it’s kind of a found footage movie, without the footage actually having been found. This method works here, but at the same time the incredible number of cameras this guy was able to stash in James’s home, in the car, even several of them where James works, kept pulling me out of the movie. I was surprised there weren’t cameras inside Bill’s house when James barged in, confident Amy was being held there. I’m glad there weren’t any there, as it would have been the final straw on an already dangerously weak camel’s back.
I felt for James when no one took his plight seriously, but at the same time I didn’t wonder why everyone reacted that way; he wasn’t helping his case at all. When his sister-in-law comes over insisting on speaking to her sister–Amy–James doesn’t plead with her to help him find her, allowing her access to the house so she can see Amy isn’t here. Instead, he kicks her out and tells her go away, I’m handling it. She threatens to call the cops and James says call them, they won’t do anything.
If he wasn’t guilty, wouldn’t he have taken the sister-in-law’s presence as an opportunity for help in cracking this case?
When he finds his cat’s severed head in the mailbox, instead of calling the police right there, he stashes the head in the freezer. Forget that, man; I find my pet’s head in the mailbox, I’m not only NOT touching it, I’m standing guard right next to it until the police show up and deal with this situation.
So while I felt for James’s situation, I also think he could have handled things a lot better.
But this isn’t my biggest problem with this movie. That would be something ALL movie villains should have: motivation. This guy didn’t have any. I kept waiting for it, waiting for the reveal of the voyeur’s identity as someone James knew, someone who wanted bad things to happen to him. But in the end, the voyeur is never revealed. Instead we see him in at a computer, compiling the highlight reel at 388 Arletta Avenue onto DVD which goes into a labeled case and is placed on a shelf among a slew of other similar DVD cases, all labeled with different addresses. Apparently our voyeur collects these, moving from neighborhood to neighborhood just watching people unravel, and with, also apparently, no motive whatsoever other than he’s batshit crazy. And that ain’t no kinda motive for a movie like this. It cheapens the experience, in my opinion.
Still, I found this movie enjoyable, despite my many gripes. Cole’s use of the hidden cameras works, and Stahl really sells his performance, creating, as I said, a very tense and paranoid thriller, that leaves the viewer truly on the edge of their seat and short of breath with anticipation of what could possibly come next.
Cole hasn’t made a movie since this one–which came out in 2011–but hopefully that’s because he’s taking the time to craft his next one perfectly. I’d definitely like to see what he does next, and if it’s another movie like this one, the further adventures of the voyeur–this time where he gets his comeuppance–I’d be totally down for that. Bring it on.