For a couple of years in college, I was a music major. I generally liked it except for Tuesdays and Thursdays when, invariably, I’d have a 7:30AM class. My freshman year it was Music Appreciation. Music History took its place my sophomore year. These weren’t bad classes but they were pretty early in the morning in a well air conditioned auditorium with comfortable chairs. In other words, it was a recipe for an unintentional nap. I don’t remember much from them, but I remember this: a fugue is a musical piece with two or more counterpointing voices.
It’s also a rare psychiatric disorder which included reversible amnesia.
Both play a part in Barbara Stepansky’s second feature film, “Fugue”.
Charlotte (Abigail Mittel) and her college professor boyfriend, Howard (Richard Gunn) move into a new home. They seem like the garden-variety “happy couple” as they get used to their new living arrangement unpacking, planning gardens and having sex on the kitchen floor. Everything seems to go well, even though Charlotte is recovering from a mysterious head injury. But the good times don’t last for long as she starts to experience strange things in the new house in the form of unexplained voices and ghostly figures. Are they the results of the injury? Are they supernatural, or is something else altogether different going on?
It’s quite a trick to occupy that limbo-like space between like and hate but, this is the first movie I’ve seen in a while that has managed it. What strikes me immediately as the culprit is, sadly, the story. Ordinarily, journeys into madness are my brand of vodka – so long as they are dark, disturbing and soul-shaking. What I got from this movie was “madness-lite,” the kind of portrayal you might get in an afterschool special or a made-for-TV movie. For me, the journey lacked intensity. It felt bland. It felt vaguely afraid to plumb the depths. Of course, one of the reasons for that might be that it wasn’t about a journey into madness. “Fugue” also flirted with supernatural explanations. I understand that when one is making a psychological thriller like this one, there is an inclination to toss things like this into the mix to keep the audience guessing. But after a few of these left turns, it just started to feel gimmicky and by the end of the film, it just left me scratching my head at the flawed logic of it all.
It wasn’t good.
It wasn’t bad.
It didn’t even manage disappointing – only forgettable – and that’s a shame.
Despite the underwhelming overall feel, though, the stars do not disappoint. Mittel is the lynchpin of the film and she does a great job as the woman searching for the keys to her past and the trauma hidden there. She brings believability in the face of the unbelievable. Her chemistry with Gunn works well early on. Even later, when things get a little soap opera-y, they’re still able to keep things real even if it did elicit some eyerolling on my part. Visually, the film is very well shot and seems to take it’s cue from any number of domestic thrillers.
“Fugue”, while getting many things right, gets a few major things wrong. While it might not induce reversible amnesia, it could be responsible for an unintentional nap.