Wednesday, January 30, 2019

White Orchid (2018 film)




Written, edited, and directed by Steve Anderson, White Orchid is the story of a part-time social services investigator who takes on the identity of a dead woman to capture a serial killer who killed the woman. The film is a neo-noir film that has a woman help the police to catch a killer but becomes lost in the identity that she inhabits. Starring Olivia Thirlby, Jennifer Beals, John Carroll Lynch, Janina Gavankar, Raymond J. Barry, Brendan Sexton III, Rachael Taylor and Nichelle Nichols. White Orchid is an intriguing though underwhelming film from Steve Anderson.

Following the death of a woman who was beheaded and found naked on a beach, a part-time social services investigator is asked by local police officials to take part of the case as she would pretend to be the dead woman only to get way over her head. It’s a film with a simple premise as it play into a woman being asked to investigate a murder in a small town near San Francisco yet it is also a film about identity where this shy and reserved part-time social services investigator takes more than she bargains for. Steve Anderson’s screenplay largely revolves on the protagonist of Claire (Olivia Thirlby) who is asked by a district attorney in Vivian (Jennifer Beals) to investigate this case and give out any information to the local authority figure in Sheriff Martin (John Carroll Lynch).

While Claire would learn about this mysterious killer and its victim, she also learns about the latter and her vices where she would wear wigs and such as Claire would inhabit a different identity. The script does succeed in Claire’s fascination for this victim yet it has a lot of tonal issues in what it wants to be as a story while it doesn’t do much to build up the suspense. Even as it prefers to be something low key which doesn’t bring in a lot of surprises as it’s one of the weaker elements of the film.

Anderson’s direction is largely simple in its compositions as it is shot largely on location in the Bay Area in California with a few shots in San Francisco where it is obvious there is a homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo in one notable shot as well as a few references to the film in a few scenes. Yet, it’s among some of the issues the film has where it isn’t sure what it wants to be where it wants to be this suspense-drama but it also wants to be a film about identity. Anderson does know how to create intriguing compositions that include a scene of Claire trying out wigs in a stylish montage created by Anderson, who also serves as its editor, as well as moments that play into elements of eroticism. Despite the many tonal issues the film has, Anderson is able to create scenes that are intriguing that include this climatic meeting between Claire and the person she believes is the killer as it is a battle of wits. Overall, Anderson creates a messy yet worthwhile film about a young investigator trying to solve a murder mystery as she pretends to be its victim.

Cinematographer Patrick Meade Jones does excellent work with the film’s cinematography as it is straightforward with some stylish lighting for a few scenes at night including a club scene. Art director Erin Cochran, with set decorators Abra Brayman and Fernando Valdes, does fantastic work with the look of the home of its victim as well as the small motel room that Claire would stay in for all of the research of her case. Costume designer E.B. Brooks does nice work with the costumes as it has an element of style in the clothes that Claire would wear as the victim that is stylish and sexy as opposed to the more reserved look that she usually sports. Sound mixer David Beebe does terrific work with the sound as it is largely straightforward to play into its locations and in some of the places Claire goes to. The film’s music by Enis Rotthoff is wonderful for its score as it has heavy orchestral themes for its suspenseful moments along with low-key ambient pieces for the quieter moments in the film.

The casting by Rebecca Mangieri and Wendy Weidman is superb as it feature some notable small roles from Michael Rodrick as a famed surgeon Claire sees in San Francisco whom she believes is a suspect, Raymond J. Barry as the neighbor of the victim, Kelsey Sieper as a woman Claire meets as the victim at a bar, Rachael Taylor as a mysterious woman Claire meets late in the film, Brendan Sexton III as a motel owner that Claire knows in James who deals with a break-in, Janina Gavankar as a friend of Claire in the musician Tina that helps her gather the research for the investigation, and Nichelle Nichols in a fantastic performance as an elderly blind woman that the victim used to chat with as Claire would befriend her. Jennifer Beals is terrific in a small role as Claire’s boss in the district attorney Vivian who gives Claire the big case though Beals is severely underused in the film.

John Carroll Lynch is excellent as Sheriff Martin as the local sheriff who helps Claire with the case while he has some concerns knowing its severity and Claire’s inexperience. Finally, there’s Olivia Thirlby in an incredible performance as Claire as a part-time social services investigator who is given a major assignment in a murder mystery where Thirlby displays that confusion and determination in a woman knowing she is dealing with a serious case while trying to understand its victim to find the killer as it is an entrancing and radiant performance from Thirlby.

White Orchid is a good yet uneven film from Steve Anderson that features an amazing performance from Olivia Thirlby. While it’s a film that does have some nice moments and intrigue about identity and loss, it does suffer from being inconsistent in its tone as well as wanting to be all sorts of film without finding its center. In the end, White Orchid is an alright film from Steve Anderson.

© thevoid99 2019

1 comment:

Wendell Ottley said...

Haven't heard of this one, but that premise sounds great. I know it doesn't quite live up to what you wanted, but I still might check it out.