Katharine Isabelle was so good in Ginger Snaps (2000), and again in the Soska sisters’ American Mary (2012), it’s always worth keeping an eye on what she’s up to, whether it’s on the small screen (Being Human, Hannibal) or the, uh, other small screen (the Soska sisters’ disappointing See No Evil 2). Now, Isabelle gets a well-deserved starring role in the slick thriller 88, and she’s determined to fill all 88 minutes of its screen time with not one but two compelling characters.
The film opens with a caption explaining the notion of a “fugue state”, described as “a rare psychiatric disorder characterised by an amnesia-like disassociation from one’s personal identity and history. A fugue state usually involves the establishment of a new persona, can last for weeks or even months, and often involves visual and auditory hallucinations. The root cause of a fugue state is unknown, but is usually triggered by a traumatic life event.” Fans of Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive will know all about fugue states (Walter White also faked one in an early, pre-Heisenberg episode of Breaking Bad), but actress-turned-director April Mullen and screenwriter Tim Doiron (who previously collaborated on Dead Before Dawn 3D and an earlier feature, Gravy Train) aim to push film’s treatment of the phenomenon into areas which are both familiar and fresh.
Following a shootout at a Tennessee diner, Gwen (Isabelle) finds herself in a diner, suffering from the loss of her boyfriend Aster, her pinkie finger – and her memory. The next thing she knows, there’s a gun in her hand, a dead waitress on the floor, and half the police in the state on her tail. Later (or earlier – the film plays those kinds of tricks), a young woman looking a lot like Gwen (and played by Isabelle again), but calling herself Flamingo, dressed in a hot red dress, commandeers an equally hot red Mustang and takes off into the Tennessee badlands. It’s only 10 minutes into 88, and we already have a bunch of questions – Are Gwen and ‘Flamingo’ the same person? What happened at the diner? Was that Christopher Lloyd in the car that drove by the diner? – which is good, in a Memento/The Nines/Hal Hartley’s Amateur kind of way. The biggest question of all, however, is a more objective one: do Mullen and Doiron have the chops to pull it off?
My answer to this one is a qualified ‘yes’.
Firstly, it’s welcome to see a film worthy of Isabelle’s talents, which remain largely unappreciated outside of the horror genre, and to see Christopher Lloyd and Michael Ironside in meaty supporting roles. It’s equally exciting to see a young woman (April Mullen) move from small-time actor to up-and-coming director, able to direct actors and action with equal flair – even if whole chunks of the film could potentially be repurposed as an Avril Lavigne music video. Mullen (who concocted the story with Doiron) keeps a handle on the tricksy narrative, which must have been a weapons-grade headache for editor Karl T Hirsch. Ultimately, however, it’s Isabelle who keeps us invested in the character(s) throughout its multiple twists and turns. If, like us, you’ve been waiting for Isabelle to fetch up in something even half as good as American Mary, 88 is the film for you.
David Hughes (@DavidHughesTwit)