Review: Spent (2017)

A witty comedy stylised as a throwback to the 1950's which has been given a dark twist driven by love, greed and rat poison.

Miser Herbert (Nick Nerangis) is on his death bed in hospital due to an oversized tumour on his brain. Instead of being beside him in grief, his wife Evelyn (Connie Lamothe) and son Lonnie (Darren Barzegar) are exploiting the situation and are busy spending the money which they are expecting to inherit. However in a cruel twist of fate, when they attend the hospital for Herbert’s final moments, they are delivered some shocking news. In a fourth of July miracle, the tumour in his brain has somehow shrunk with Herbert expected to make a full recovery.

It may seem like good news for Herbert, but with Evelyn and Lonnie already set on starting a new life, this was not the news they wanted. Evelyn had already started an affair with store owner Gregory (Tony Villa), whilst Lonnie was looking to drive away with his own romance, the beautifully persuasive Margo (Madeline Mikitarian). They conceive a plan which would enable them to keep the money, but when it comes down to following it through can they actually do it?

Spent is a feature debut for writer and director Lisa Mikitarian which is a bit of a mixed bag. There are some great ideas in the film and when they work it’s brilliantly creative with some genuinely funny moments in the film, both with the visual delivery and the witty dialogue. Although it is let down slightly by the pacing and some of the acting which feels unnaturally forced.

Both the visual style and look of the film is a throwback to the classic films of the 1950’s, with the characters somehow locked in a time capsule of that period. The vintage cars, clothing and dialogue seem to match the era, but the use of mobile phones gives the film a more contemporary timeframe.

The story certainly fits into the category of a dark comedy, with Evelyn and Lonnie deciding (with some gentle persuasion from their new love interests) to poison Herbert with rat poison and as expected, not everything goes to plan. Audiences expecting a darker execution may be slightly disappointed as the delivery is more in keeping with the style of the 1950’s era as whimsical melodrama. With that being said it still manages to hold your attention with some creative twists and some more experimental ideas thrown into the mix.

One of the strengths of the film is the way it changes your perception of the characters, especially Herbert who his family describes as a miser throughout. I was expecting more of a Scrooge style character and at times that is reflected in the his traits, but even though he is a penny pincher it was fundamentally done with good intentions. By the end Herbert was the one character who I really felt sorry for, because there was so much cynicism to the rest of the characters.

The cast look as though they are having fun with the roles which are deliberately overacted, although some of the performances encapsulated the script better than others. Nerangis as Herbert really stood out for me, adding real emotion to his performance when he was taking time to reflect on events, as well as delivering some of the film’s most memorable lines brilliantly. My favourite line is when a pizza is delivered, and he says, “In Lieu of a tip I am going to run upstairs and give you a glowing tip on Yelp” which really sums up his personality perfectly.

There are plenty of clever experimental touches to the film which help to give it a unique feel, which includes filming some of the scenes in black and white. The contrast occurs when something bad or sinister is about to happen. It is an interesting use of colour (or lack of) to express their emotions and not surprisingly first occurs when Evelyn and Lonnie learn that Herbert is going to live.

Spent may not be a perfect movie, but there is enough quirkiness and comedy here to keep it entertaining. I like the fact Lisa Mikitarian has tried to do something different with her first feature and the unusual execution of ideas work well to get the viewer thinking. It may not be a film for everyone’s taste due to the unusual execution of the film, but there is definitely something here which makes Mikitarian someone to keep an eye on in the future.

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