Starring Hugh Thompson and Lola Flanery
Written, Directed and Produced by Karl R. Hearne
An apartment building so old even the rats are trying to escape. A landlord that notices a terrible odour from the room of a tenant who hasn’t been seen lately. A damaged man whose desire to save a young woman quickly becomes obsessive. Any fan of horror-tinged mystery films will recognize these tropes instantly – but in the back of their minds, they know that it’s the genre’s ability to make these well-worn plot devices feel new that keeps it going.
The ability to make the familiar feel fresh is exactly what makes TOUCHED, opening November 16th at Carlton Cinema in Toronto for a one-week engagement, feel so essential. As suggested above, the film follows the story of landlord Gabriel (Hugh Thompson) who breaks from his lonely life of routine to try and find a young woman named Caitlyn (Lola Flanery) who has disappeared from his building. However, the plot really isn’t the most important part of the film. What Québécois writer/director/producer Karl R. Hearne has accomplished here in his feature film debut is to offer the rare ghost story that relies on more than simple scare tactics, and the even rarer mystery film that lingers on for viewers long after the final twist.
Instead, in a compact 78-minute runtime, Hearne provides a masterclass in how to structure a film like this. Rather than attempting to build a linear story out of his scenes, he makes the wise choice to opt for a more elliptical structure, suggesting the sense of routine that dominates the life of its protagonist. As Thompson’s Gabriel visits and re-visits the same places, performs the same tasks daily, and repeatedly has the same disturbing dreams, we feel his slowly building suspicion that something isn’t right – as well as his sense of being trapped. This same skill extends to Glauco Bermudez’ cinematography, which makes impressive use of the film’s limited budget in order to create a cramped, oppressive labyrinth of a cityscape, perfectly matched to the film’s general tone of hopeless desperation. As a piece of genre filmmaking, much the film’s sense of horror and dread comes from the inherent creepiness of deserted spaces, so it’s also worth noting Bermudez’ ability to light the film’s many abandoned basements just enough to make a viewer wonder about what they can’t see.
Of course, none of the filmmaking skill apparent here would matter if the people in these beautiful settings weren’t convincing, and luckily, this isn’t the case. Despite having only a minimal amount of dialogue, Thompson’s performance as the quiet, reserved Gabriel is more than memorable thanks to his ability to make awkward silences and nervous stuttering just as telling as language. Equally impressive is Flanery as the missing Caitlyn, who, presented almost entirely in dream sequences, is able to conjure up a transfixing mix of youthful exuberance, frustration and, beneath it all, a subtly growing sense of fear.
Thanks to its skillful creation and elegant style, TOUCHED emerges not only as a good story well told, but as a compelling account of trauma, and how its impact lingers on for multiple generations. It’s the kind of film where too much shouldn’t be given away beforehand, but rest assured it is more than worth your time, if only for how it proves that an old story can be made new and captivating by a talented team of artists.
TOUCHED will be at Toronto’s Carleton Cinema for a week starting on November 16th. It’s already won the award for Best Feature at the 2018 Julien Dubuque International Film Festival, and has been an official selection for plenty of other festivals worldwide, so don’t miss your chance to see it when you can.
For more details about the film, check out its official site, as well as the trailer, embedded below!