US / 83 minutes / color / Long Short, FilmBuff Dir & Scr: Jon Lefkovitz Pr: Stephen Paratore Cine: Anthony C. Kuhnz Cast: Andrew Perez, Erika Rankin, Bob Turton, Talia Stol.
Made on a microbudget and with just two actors (Turton and Stol merely supply telephone voices), this somewhat Hitchcockian psychological study shows many of the standard failings of the indy movie—poor pacing, bad sound editing, a disparity in acting abilities—but is far from lacking in interest.
Henry (Andrew Perez) and Carolyn (Erika Rankin) enjoy a quiet night at home.
In LA, management consultant Carolyn (Rankin) and social-misfit, somewhat creepy political journalist Henry (Perez) have been living together for a matter of weeks when he proposes to her and she accepts. Soon after, though, she has to go to NYC for a few weeks to help her mom deal with the death of her grandmother; however, her actress sister Laura (Rankin again) is coming to LA and will stay in the apartment with Henry while she looks around for parts and digs. Laura proves to be an identical twin but, where Carolyn is mousy, Laura’s glamorous; where Carolyn’s a bit girlish and repressed, Laura’s worldly and openly sexual; where Carolyn’s teetotal and doesn’t smoke, Laura knocks back the beers zestfully and is always nipping out onto the balcony for a ciggy.
Soon enough, inevitably, Henry’s completely infatuated with the sexy babe he’s living with who just happens to look exactly like his fiancée.
Which is not to say that he likes her as much . . . and he’s completely unnerved when he starts having sexual nightmares about her.
A nightmare vision of Laura (Erika Rankin).
Eventually he becomes suspicious. It seems the only times he can catch Carolyn on the phone, IM or Skype are when Laura’s out of sight/earshot. And why had Carolyn never mentioned her sis before the announcement that Laura was coming to stay? He seeks and gets reassurance on the phone from the couple’s NYC-based friend Tony (Turton) that Carolyn is really there, but could Tony be in cahoots with Carolyn in whatever mind-game she’s playing on her fiancé?
“You’re sexy when you play guitar,” Laura (Erika Rankin tells Henry.
Henry oscillates in his opinion, sometimes believing Laura’s real and sometimes that she’s Carolyn playing a part. On the night of both twins’ birthday, he buys Laura a cake which they sample on the couch after she’s got home, slightly drunk, from an evening clubbing with friends. As she starts heading for bed, he snaps and near-rapes her—the “near” being only because she eventually becomes as enthusiastic as he is.
Driven to a sexual frenzy, Henry (Andrew Perez) near-rapes Laura (Erika Rankin).
The next day, Laura announces that one of them has to tell Carolyn what they’ve done. Snooping through Laura’s stuff, Henry comes across the engagement ring he gave Carolyn, still in its box, and the truth becomes obvious to him . . .
So, for some reason completely unfathomable to me, he kills her. Up to this point it was fairly easy to suspend disbelief despite—perhaps even because of—the implausibility of the setup (rather in the same way we accepted the plot of the old Avengers TV series because of their implausibility). But the murder seems completely gratuitous, stuck in there just to solve Lefkovitz’s plotting problem (how can this story end?) rather than flowing naturally from the tale itself, and from this point onward, at least for me, events seemed to become increasingly and rebarbatively preposterous.
The murder victim (Erika Rankin).
By the end there are several plot strands left unresolved. For example, why does Henry never go out? Even Laura remarks on this. It’s presumably for budgetary reasons that the action takes place entirely in the apartment except for, late on, a few moments just outside it; but this particular mystery, having been introduced, is then seemingly forgotten, because later we learn Henry does go out to buy Laura’s birthday cake.
The final twist is one of those that makes any sense at all for only as long as it takes to stare dumbfounded at the screen.
Kuhnz’s cinematography is good, and helps make some awkward moments tolerable, but what really carries the movie is Rankin’s skill in handling the two identical but, in terms of personality, very different twins. I had to keep reminding myself that the same actress was playing both roles. When we bear in mind that this had to be achieved solely through her acting—because in a movie whose budget is as visibly tiny as this one there was for sure no hifalutin technological assistance to hand—the feat becomes all the more impressive.
Because Rankin’s so good, it becomes painfully clear that Perez, although perfectly competent, is simply not in the same acting league (at least not here). Early during the actress sister Laura’s stay, as they’re discussing her profession, there’s a brief exchange that’s unfortunate in this context:
Laura: “You act?”
Henry: “Me? No, not at all.”
You can find Engagement on Hulu, and at least the first 75 minutes or so are, despite the irritations mentioned, worth watching.
On Amazon.com: Engagement