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Movie Review: Romancing the dead proves complicated in the smart, nuanced “DIANE”

Thursday, September 13, 2018 | Indie Films, Review

By SHAWN MACOMBER

Starring Jason Alan Smith, Carlee Avers and Margaret Rose Champagne
Written and directed by Michael Mongillo
Random Media

If, as the old saw would have us believe, timing truly is everything in relationships, the torrid affair between Steve (Jason Alan Smith) and Diane (Carlee Avers) appears doomed from the start. After all, when the disabled war vet first encounters the woman of his dreams, she is sprawled out in his backyard, a screwdriver plunged into her heart, mortal coil definitively shuffled off—hardly the raw materials of your average romcom.

And yet, in DIANE, love finds a way. From beyond the grave and with disastrous results, sure, but a way nonetheless.

To be fair, it’s clear essentially from the jump that this will not be a traditional boy-meets-girl tale. The film, coming to cable and digital VOD next Tuesday, September 18, begins with an extended Lynchian opening sequence in which the titular character, clad in a sparkly show dress and standing before stage lights in an otherwise pitch-black room, belts out a torch song, her sultry, emotive mien powerfully transmitting melancholy, desire and defiance at turns. Diane could just as easily be performing in a lonely corner of Purgatory as in an empty club, and this ambiguity sets the tone for the film that follows—lyrical, chimeric, dread-inducing and unpredictable.

At first, Steve seems an unlikely candidate for a dalliance with such a altered state. He is an isolated and solitary figure by choice, leading a life that could not be less magical, residing in a house his parents left him in a neighborhood full of people eager to not accept or understand him, tinkering on broken-down machines to earn a meager living.

The appearance of Diane, however, forces a change. Not only is he now a suspect in a murder case, hassled almost constantly by detectives, customers and neighbors looking to turn the metaphorical screws until he confesses, but the dead woman begins to appear to him very much alive, in both his waking moments and across surrealist dreamscapes. There is a sense that the wounds life has separately inflicted on each of them are similar, the healing complementary. They can be together forever, she suggests, but the price will be high. As his life spirals out of control, there are hints that Steve may have a buried past, obscured even to him, that explains this connection to Diane, forged strong enough to transcend death.

It’s a testament to writer/director Michael Mongillo (WELCOME TO EARTH) that this mix of art-house horror, police procedural, unorthodox love story and dramatic character study is woven together into such a seamless, believable and affecting whole. The nuanced, naturalistic, multilayered performances of his two lead players also buoy the film. Avers, in particular, is mesmerizing, whether she’s channeling sorrow, joyful playfulness or pure menace. The film’s ultimate resolution gives a new, even darker meaning to the term “star-crossed”—considering the circumstances, how could it not?—but nevertheless leaves you with an appreciation of the power and persistence of love.

Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold (RUE MORGUE's Head Writer) has been covering the world of horror cinema for over three decades, and spent 28 years as a writer and editor for FANGORIA magazine and its website. In addition to RUE MORGUE, he currently writes for BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH, SCREAM, IndieWire.com, TIME OUT, DELIRIUM and others. His book THE FRIGHTFEST GUIDE TO MONSTER MOVIES (FAB Press) is out this fall, and he has contributed liner notes and featurettes to a number of Blu-ray and DVD releases. Among his screenplay credits are SHADOW: DEAD RIOT and LEECHES!, and he is currently working on THE DOLL with director Dante Tomaselli.