In his independent film, A Public Ransom, filmmaker Pablo D’Stair attempts a thriller to pay homage to the likes of Bresson and Fassbinder in terms of the technique used, which involves setting up the steady camera at one angle and letting the actors perform long takes in front of it. What he ends up doing is a mundane exercise to test your patience instead. A Public Ransom stems from an interesting premise but does not hold up, unfortunately.
Taking off from the description given by the filmmaker, Steven (Carlyle Edwards) is a self-serving, amoral author of very mediocre talent. When he stumbles across a crayon-scribbled “missing child” poster with a scrawled telephone number and the words “Help Me?” written on it, he figures it to be harmless–and deciding to base a story around it, he calls the number. This leads to an encounter with Bryant (Goodloe Byron) who flatly claims to have actually kidnapped a girl, stating she will be released only if Steven pays a mere $2000 ransom within two weeks. Steven initially dismisses Bryant as a morbid prankster—until Bryant begins a relationship with his only friend, Rene (Helen Bonaparte) and starts popping up in his life in apparently coincidental, yet increasingly invasive and unsettling ways. Indeed, very intriguing. But the execution given to the script by D’Stair leaves a lot to desire. This is a dialogue heavy film, shot in grayscale, but an appalling chunk of those dialogues occur when Steven is talking on the phone. This makes the proceedings very dull. Most of the scenes involving two characters are staged like a theater production with minimal cinematic quality. In a lot of the scenes, he uses extremely murky long shots or mid-shots which give no idea of the proceedings on the screen. It takes eons before you can see a closeup of a character. In an attempt to achieve naturalism with the aforesaid technique, he detaches his audience from the film more often than not. A film is an audio-visual medium but this one can be watched even if you turn off the video. Some of the dialogue sequences may be very well written but lack the impact due to hammy execution by the leads. It is very easy to dislike Steven’s character and the film in itself, as it repetitively charades on banality. As an audience, you cannot invest in any character because you never feel anything is at stake.
Produced on a minimal budget, the film appears to be a first time attempt of some friends. Paul Vanbrocklin’s cinematography stays far away from the nerve of the film while Emanuella Scott’s work at the edit looks like she just took the shot footage and put it in order. Amongst the actors, all have worked assiduously to give extensive long takes without missing a line but the impact is missing due to the over-the-top projection. Carlyle Edwards is good in some sequences, while Helen Bonaparte looks miscast. Goodloe Byron is barely seen in any of the frames.
On the whole, A Public Ransom is a largely experimental film but for a psychological thriller, it does not live upto either half of the genre. It is an interesting plot, which unfolds in the most disjointed fashion possible. Yet, it is a strong statement from an independent filmmaker who put it out for free viewing on the Internet. Except that most audience would not be able to sit through it.
Rating – 1/5