So … it goes without saying that I love it when a modern release does try to seize on the elements that make film noirs such a pleasant experience – the starkness of black-and-white cinematography, the world-weary heroes and antiheroes, and the usual labyrinthine plotlines. While I’ve seen many attempts that didn’t quite capture the milieu as effectively, I think it’s easy to spot the effort to get it right … and that’s definitely the case with Pirie Martin’s Psychosis, a new release that’s presently screening on the film festival circuit.
Psychosis introduces audiences to the character of Cliff Van Aarle (played wonderfully by Derryn Amoroso), a ‘gun for hire’ legman who uses the earnings from his odd jobs to care his bedridden sister slumbering in a deep coma at the city hospital. Tortured by a troubled past along with the fact that he suffers from an intense case of paracusia (i.e. he’s constantly hearing voices in his head), he’ll still stop at nothing to get the job done, even if the mission of mercy points him in directions where angels fear to tread.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the film’s IMDB.com page citation:
“A criminal fixer who experiences auditory hallucinations must confront old demons when a new contract drags him into a surreal maelstrom of mind-altering drugs, delusional vigilantes, and a sadistic hypnotist who seems more monster than man.”
That’s how Psychosis (2023) feels to me.
Martin’s flick at times feels like a traditional gumshoe-style picture – one wherein a tired detective (here more of a problem solver, but you get the idea) has to face insurmountable odds in order to get to the bottom of the mystery – but there are a good number of other influences at work in the narrative at different times. In fact, the film’s pervasive drug use gets likened to creating a world of ‘Living Dead’ inspired chaos, harkening back to the enduring George A. Romero universe at a few times. There are also greater hints – through a largely undeveloped subplot – that Cliff and his ailing sister were subject to some mind-altering experiments by ‘dear old dad’ at some point in their youth; and the fact that this unseen influence emerges as a possible source for evil in the present day, too, suggests that there’s more to that story worth a second look. Add to the whole affair the emergence of vigilante justice – there’s a streetwise character who functions under the caped-pseudonym of ‘LoneWolf’ – and I begin to wonder about the seemingly endless possibilities Martin only tapped in here, dangling the potential but never quite swinging open the door.
Therein lies Psychosis’s chief problem: outside of a fairly rudimentary detective story, it never quite develops into anything deeper.
Under Martin’s direction, there’s a bit of trickery employed here and there. The film is chiefly shot in black-and-white, but – on a few occasions – he slips in a frame or two of color; and it’s all meant to signify … well? I’m not quite sure. The bulk of these flourishes involve the feature’s chief antagonist – an Octopus-themed costumed madman who goes by the name Joubini (a type of octopus) – and it would seem the villain has and employs a skill set of hypnotic powers to both lure users to his street drug of preference as well as to maintain his empire. Sadly, it’s all a bit confusing: he exists and has clearly conscripted others to work in service, but is that all it takes to satisfy a man with such magical abilities? Street domination? What about the world? And what exactly was his allegiance to Cliff’s father?
But if Van Aarle’s called back into duty in another picture?
Well, I like this one well enough that I’d hope to see the world continued. Granted, not every player gives his or her A-game; and there are more questions left unanswered than there are closed. But there’s a charm to a good deal of this independent feature, and I can’t help but wonder just how far Martin and Amoroso’s shoulders might be able to carry the effort. There’s room for more, true. I just hope there’s desire to continue.
Psychosis (2023) was produced by Pirie Martin and Jarrad Bhatia. From the information I’ve been provided, the film is currently having its world premiere at the 2023 Popcorn Frights Film Festival in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. As for the technical specifications? While I’m no trained video expert, I thought the sights-and-sounds to this independently produced flick to be exceptional: there’s some infrequent tinkering with color images that I suspect was meant to be demonstrative of something bigger in the story, but I’m at a loss presently to suggest what that might be. Who knows? Maybe the trickery added up to something more. As for the special features? Alas, folks: I viewed this one via a streaming portal, and there were no special features to evaluate.
Recommended. No doubt fans of film noir will be tickled pink by this black-and-white, and SciFi and Fantasy enthusiasts have some tidbits here and there to look forward to. Hell, there’s even a streetwise vigilante, so Superhero fans could tune in, though those elements are used only sparingly.
Surprisingly, there’s an awful lot to unpack with Psychosis (2023). While the narrative tries to work as a straightforward noir-tingled private eye flick, Pirie Martin’s thriller also dabbles in more conventional territories of Drama and Horror. Clearly, the storyteller is drawing upon a lot of influences to spin this yarn; and – while I liked a good deal of what emerged – the premise lacks a foundational explanation of what authentically was going on here, how directly it was tied to Cliff Van Aarle’s past, and just what trauma was fully responsible for rendering both Cliff and his comatose sister Louisa in their dire states. As near misses go, I still had an awful lot of fun with this one; it’s an occasionally prescient indie picture that shows real potential for an emerging auteur. Better luck next time!