Fugue – a state or period of loss of awareness of one’s identity, often coupled with flight from one’s usual environment, associated with certain forms of hysteria and epilepsy. It’s also the title of writer/director Tomas Street’s debut feature. Is it a solid debut, or a viewing experience you’ll want to develop amnesia about?
Malcolm (Jack Foley, Lifechanger) wakes up in a house he doesn’t know or at least doesn’t remember. He finds clothes that fit him in the closet and starts to wander around the immaculate, and expensive-looking, house. A woman shows up, she says she’s Helen (Laura Tremblay), his wife. It seems Malcolm suffers from chronic short term amnesia. He has pills for it but apparently keeps forgetting to take them.
Later that day an old friend, Ian (Mike Donis, Red Spring, Save Yourself) turns up unexpectedly. This sets off suspicions in Malcolm. Not long after a gang of thugs break in, demanding Malcolm unlock the house’s safe. The problem is, he has no memory of the safe or its combination which leads to a violent confrontation. Whoever Malcolm is, he knows a thing or two about fighting. But the intruders aren’t giving up that easily.
Fugue feels like something of a cross between a typical home invasion film and Memento, or maybe Headshot at the start. But it also gives off a weird “something’s wrong” vibe. Things like, as mentioned, the house looking to clean to be lived in, some of the character interactions feeling very stiff, etc. Don’t let that put you off, they aren’t mistakes by a rookie director. In fact, given Street’s long list of credits as a script supervisor on films that include Tainted, Gridlock and Another WolfCop that’s probably the least likely of things he would trip up on.
When the story picks up the next day it becomes evident that some things aren’t what they seem. On everyone’s part. At this point, Fugue shifts gears to become a tightly wound, paranoid thriller that delivers several surprises. And those surprises don’t stop until the ending itself. Whether you find that ending frustrating or fitting, however, is another matter.
A winner in the Indican20K, Fugue was made for approximately $20,000 Canadian. For those who don’t know, and I didn’t until I started reading up on this film, IndieCan20K is a competition run by Canadian producer Avi Federgreen (For the Sake of Vicious, Clapboard Jungle: Surviving the Independent Film Business) in which first-time directors and first-time producers pitch ideas with a maximum production budget of $20,000.
Fugue was shot in and around one location, a house and its garden shed, to keep costs down. Not only is that all the script needed, but it’s also constructed so that more would screw things up. The perfect set up for a low budget film when you think of it.
What Fugue needed, apart from a solid script, is solid performances from the leads. And it certainly got them. The three leads had to not only play their characters, they had to be convincing at portraying characters but characters that are operating on multiple levels. Tremblay frequently does it while looking quite distracting in her nightgown which is an added bonus.
Street has made a very good first impression with Fugue. He’s shown he has the talent to pull off a tricky thriller and get the kind of performances it needs from the cast. He’s also shown he can deliver on a minuscule budget, something that’s probably even more important when it comes to indie filmmaking.