By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Starring Patrick John Flueger, Louisa Krause and Val Kilmer
Directed by Stephan Rick
Written by John J. McLaughlin
The highlight of THE SUPER is Val Kilmer’s performance, and not for the reasons you might expect. The casting of the former major star in the supporting role of a strange, heavily accented handyman who’s into “Ukranian psycho voodoo shit” suggests a camp feast, but Kilmer admirably resists the role’s potential to go over the top, plays it straight and relatively understated and succeeds in projecting a sense of duplicitous menace. He’s the best thing in a movie that isn’t nearly as focused as his acting.
Part of the issue appears to be undue editing that leaves some plot threads dangling and others insufficiently explored. At one point, a girl grieves for a vanished boy with whom she’s only shared one brief scene, and though the movie runs under 90 minutes, it spends the first 13 of them with a pair of characters whose only part in the story, it turns out, is to be prologue victims. These are teacher Ms. Daigle (STARRY EYES’ Alex Essoe) and her bedridden special-needs…husband? Brother? It’s never made clear, and while the camerawork and visuals (a CGI race through heating ducts, etc.) suggest a supernatural presence, a moment in which building manager Mr. Johnson (Paul Ben-Victor) refers to a missing set of master keys hints that the malefactor who will wind up bumping them off is human.
The mystery of these and other disappearances in a massive apartment building in Manhattan’s financial district becomes a distraction for Phil Lodge (Patrick John Flueger), a former cop and widower who takes the titular job and moves in with his daughters, teen Violet (Taylor Richardson) and little Rose (Mattea Marie Conforti). Despite the fact that Ms. Daigle and whoever have just forcibly vacated their room, Phil and the kids are relegated to dumpy accommodations in the basement, the better for Rose to go exploring and run into weirdo Walter, who sits at a candle-festooned desk chanting Ukranian psycho voodoo shit. Phil is unnerved by Walter’s attention to Rose, and as more victims are claimed, he becomes convinced that Walter is to blame, and resorts to planting evidence in an attempt to get him arrested and out of the picture.
Directed by German filmmaker Stephan Rick, whose 2015 thriller THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON deserves greater Stateside exposure, from a script by John J. McLaughlin (one of the writers of BLACK SWAN), THE SUPER juggles a number of intriguing dramatic/scary possibilities without fully exploring any of them. It doesn’t fully commit to being a psychochiller, an occult creepfest or a study of Phil succumbing to his own paranoia, and instead tentatively touches on all of them, with occasional gory deaths (courtesy of makeup effects creator Robert Kurtzman). Rick and cinematographer Stefan Ciupek bring Italian horror-esque flourishes and J-horror-style atmosphere to the proceedings (a music box playing, rising choruses on the soundtrack, one character dispatched in a SUSPIRIA-like setpiece), but the successfully evoked mood can only go so far to sustain interest in the patchy narrative.
So it falls to Kilmer (whose makeup was done by Oscar-winning veteran Michele Burke) to maintain interest in THE SUPER, even though the longer the film goes on, the more it feels like he’s being set up as a red herring. No fair discussing the climactic revelations in detail; let’s just say that it was probably a bad idea to throw such a curveball into a scenario that has previously been so all over the field.