Rory Culkin delivers one of the best performances of the year as a troubled young man rapidly losing touch with reality after his release from a mental hospital in Lou Howe’s effectively chilling psychodrama.
Instead of heading directly home to his still frazzled, but loving mother (Deirdre O’Connell) and his judgemental older brother (David Call) in upstate New York, Gabe (Culkin) attempts to track down an ex-girlfriend he hasn’t spoken to in over two years. Gabe hasn’t been taking his medication and hides behind a still thin veneer of sanity, fixating on this former love as the one thing he thinks can complete his return to health. It leads Gabe on a deeply unhealthy quest, and places his already taxed family to the breaking point.
There are shades of Mark Romanek’s One Hour Photo that hang over Howe’s work, but outside of a gloriously lush, and never overbearing score the occurrences in Gabriel are decidedly more subdued and skew towards a younger crowd. It starts off incredibly uneasy, with Gabe obviously lying to everyone around him to reach an endgame the audience is never quite sure of. The audience also isn’t privy to knowing exactly why Gabe was hospitalized, but we know it involved something violent and terrifying.
Once the film settles into a family drama where Gabe’s relatives attempt to figure out how to handle the troubled young man’s stubbornness, that’s when things really come to life. Gabe’s mindset changes depending on whomever he’s around, and as his condition worsens, the unravelling happens at a fast rate. His family understands this is Gabe’s last chance, but Gabe’s single-mindedness gives him a strange and dangerous sense of confidence.
Culkin eerily embodies Gabe as a bundle of tics and neuroses that belie a deeply repressed powder keg of emotions that are primed to explode. Culkin does a spot on job of showing someone who has kept their feelings repressed for so long because he desperately wants to unleash them on the people he couldn’t be upfront with. Culkin also has a lot to work with in his supporting cast, especially in a bravura sequence where Gabe has a full on psychotic episode in front of his grandmother (Lynn Cohen) and his brother’s unprepared girlfriend (Alexia Rasmussen). He brings out the most in Howe’s material, which ends in an odd place, but definitely in a spot worth puzzling over.
It’s worth seeing for Culkin’s transformative turn alone, but it’s good to know that everything else about the film is up to his level. (Andrew Parker)
Tuesday, November 11th, 6:30pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox