Sunday 3 May 2015

Terminus (2014)

Director: Angel Ruiz
Stars: Angel Ruiz, Michelle Palermo and Carrie Fee
This film was an official selection at the Phoenix Film Festival in 2014. Here's an index to my reviews of 2014 films.
As soon as the Home Grown Shorts set finished at last year's Phoenix Film Festival, I sought out the man behind Terminus, Angel Ruiz, to seek his permission to screen it myself. Happily he allowed me to screen it at a couple of film festivals I ran at local conventions and it played well each time. That isn't to say that it's a perfect piece because it isn't and its flaws seem to add up each time I see the film, but none are of any real importance beyond the slightly metallic sound that mars some of the earlier scenes a little. The rest are merely details, down to my realisation on my latest time through that Ruiz must have changed a minor script element between producing his props and shooting his film, so that the closer we watch, the more little details stand out as wrong. The sweep of it is solid though, as are a few different bookends to keep us on our toes, and it remains more accessible and more accomplished than Interceptor, his film in the previous year's festival. Of course, neither are on IMDb, as Ruiz is apparently allergic to credits.

Terminus begins all sweetness and light, with a faux commercial for the company of the title, which bills itself as a people placement service. The recognisable faces of Michelle Palermo and Carrie Fee, with the new one to me of Joran Bean, hawk a company which guarantees results. Then the title card arrives in an ominous red on black with an even more ominous horror tone to highlight that this is a dark story and we need to watch carefully to figure out what's really going on. The title helps that too, as does the fact that the receptionist at Terminus is Glona, the example girl in the commercial who was placed 'in a prestigious company with locations around the world'. Yeah, the one she's advertising! So, as the soft jazz and exotic fish settle us at Terminus HQ, in comes David Keppler in the form of Angel Ruiz himself, straightening his tie before his eight o'clock with the CEO of the company, Diana Silver. Quite why he warrants the CEO for his evaluation, I have no idea; that's one of those odd details that stands out with repeat viewings.
This evaluation is the heart of the story. Silver, calm and professional to the degree that every line feels like it's crafted for another commercial, has him go through three tests. He's confident and flirtacious as he begins, but things soon change and we start to discover the darkness that the title card promised. It ends very well indeed, with a few quick twists that may seem obvious on a repeat viewing but aren't on the first time through; they're all telegraphed but not to the degree that we necessarily know how they will manifest themselves. My biggest problem initially lay in my being a trained touch typist so the third test was a gimme for me, so detracting from one of the twists. I presume it would also have been for the David Keppler who's detailed on the resume on Silver's desk, prompting him to change from a software engineer with a degree to a high school grad with an industrial background. Maybe the former would be more appropriate for a meeting with the CEO. Multiple viewings can be a benefit or a curse...

The acting is solid, though a few lines should have been retaken early on. Ruiz wrote the film entirely so he could hurl profanity at Michelle Palermo on screen and, as always, he's strong in the tougher scenes. He does well in quieter ones here too, mixing well an overt cockiness with a little subtle self-doubt. Ruiz gives himself the story arc, so Palermo has to delve into her character. She gets to drop a lot of hints as to where the story is going and we realise that even if we don't grasp her meanings, so we pay her a lot of attention. The film is worth watching twice just to see her character from the new perspective that the first viewing gives us. Carrie Fee gets little to do except smile a lot as Glona, but she does get to end the film by thrusting her breasts at the camera (completely safe for work, folks). The story trumps the acting though, as the point is to put us in the same seat as Keppler to try to puzzle through what's going on. It's a successful and memorable piece on that front, even if you happen to be a touch typist.

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