VQFF 2015: Lyle an effectively creepy pregnancy thriller

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      Lyle (USA)

      With its one-hour length, low-key creepiness and clues are packed in from the get-go in this psychological thriller-horror. Stay-at-home Leah (Gaby Hoffmann) and record producer June (Ingrid Jungermann) check out a two-bedroom apartment in a Brooklyn brownstone. Refreshingly, the film doesn't make an issue out of the same-sex relationship but simply presents it as fact. 

      When building manager Karen (an effortlessly quirky Rebecca Street) notices Leah's bump, she shares that she—who appears to be in her 60s—is trying to get pregnant. Meanwhile, Leah and June's daughter, Lyle, has a tendency to run off—and, once the couple moves in, starts talking to invisible people. None of these strange things help Leah's growing unease with the place.

      When tragedy strikes, fault lines in Leah and June's relationship crack open. Leah spirals downward into instability while June, who throws herself into furthering her career, becomes increasingly unavailable and distant. Cast standout Hoffmann (Girls) becomes as frightening in appearance as the things that seem to haunt Leah, as she struggles to retain her grip on reality.

      Are Leah's suspicions of the strange landlady, who suddenly appears pregnant, true? Who are the mysterious female neighbours who stare at her from the garden? Is Leah simply being paranoid and imagining things? Or is there something inherently evil about the building that is rife with inexplicable noises and reappearing objects?

      Facts don't add up, suspicions get explained away, red herrings abound—coupled with Leah's unreliability and propensity for overreaction, these elements provide a series of flip-flops that make it challenging to figure out what exactly the truth is without completely alienating the viewer. Particularly effective is the mood, cultivated in part by an unnerving piano-based score. Interestingly, the film creates as much suspense and unease in daylight as most movies do by relying on clichéd nighttime settings. Yet the camera's tendency for meditative pauses contrasts with the rushed pacing of information, suggesting a longer screen time would have allowed the material to truly breathe.

      Nonetheless, writer-director Stewart Thorndike works wonders on a micro-budget production shot only in five days. This debut intimates the promise of even greater things to come from Thorndike.

      Lyle screens on August 16 (7 p.m.) at International Village as part of the Vancouver Queer Film Festival.

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