One thing that’s cool about having a horror website for six years is that people will start tipping you off to stuff you might have normally overlooked. So is the case with the independent Hitchcockian thriller SYMPATHY, which was directed by fellow Chicago native Andrew Moorman.
The screenplay was adapted by Arik Martin from his own play and tells the story a reckless bank robber and his rebellious teenage hostage who are holed up for the night in a bad motel. Then a mysterious stranger and dark twists of fate send this night into a descent of bloody madness in a deadly game of cat and mouse – where nothing is what it seems.
Shot for a mere $6,500 in a single hotel room, the most impressive thing is how incredibly suspenseful SYMPATHY was. Carried by the strong female lead, MARINA SHTELEN as Sara, her powerful performance adding intrigue and intensity to a seemingly simple scenario. Much like Hannibal Lecter behind so dangerous behind bars in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, the same can be said about Sara. The fact that Sara is still so devious and dangerous while handcuffed to a bedpost makers her character instantly memorable. While unable to use her arms, she shapes her situation with her captures, Dennis (AARON BOUCHER) and Trip (STEVEN PRITCHARD), into what she needs it to be to escape. Although all three of the actors were wonderful, there were a few moments that reminded me of Cary Elwes in SAW.
The screenplay, even while weak in various points (it can be as frustrating as watching LOST), continued to build the suspense until the very last frame. But what truly gave SYMPATHY it’s magic was it’s sublime editing, sound design and score. The stings were wonderfully placed and the builds were beautiful; you can tell the entire sound team (of four) had put their heart and soul into it this experiment. But the final stroke of genius would have Hitchcock proud to have influenced such an independent modern classic – the editing. The blend of sound design, score and editing is what made the film as suspenseful as it was. Holding the frame for the perfect amount of time is a science and doing it correctly can make or break the final cut of a film.
Although SYMPATHY isn’t very visually appealing, and at times it looks like we’re in fact watching a play, the overall experience is such a suspenseful and delicious treat. While Hitchcock rolls over in his grave with all of these big budget studio films featuring people trapped in a hotel room, Andrew Moorman is keeping his faith alive that there is still heart in filmmaking. Believe it or not, some people actually still care. After watching this film, I guarantee you won’t have as much sympathy for all of those big budget studio flops.