The Road from Erebus (2000 TVM)

US / 97 minutes / color / Short End, Silverline Dir & Pr & Scr: David Sporn Cine: Ben Wolf Cast: Brenda Price, D. James Reynolds, Morton Hall Millen, Paige Balitski, Jeff Paul, Bob Brown, Lesley Morris, Keith Miller, Robert Pemberton, Evan Lai, Christine Murray, Keely Barr.

According to Wikipedia, “In Greek mythology, Erebus . . . was often conceived as a primordial deity, representing the personification of darkness.” There’s obviously symbolism going on here, because the only appearance of the word in this movie (aside from the title) is in the name of the street in New York City where the villain lives, Erebus Street. Yet the plot as a whole could be seen as tracing the protagonist’s escape from “the personification of darkness”—or at least from darkness.

D. James Reynolds as Barry.

Books editor Barry Atman (Reynolds) picks up advertising exec Helen (Price) in a restaurant and has the night of his dreams with her. But in the morning she flees from his apartment, apparently in terror. Trying to track her down, he encounters sculptress Roxanne (Price, yet again), who’s the spitting image of Helen but far ballsier and more sexually aggressive.

Brenda Price as Helen, as Barry first sees her.

Escaping Roxanne, Barry reckons she must be Helen’s twin sister. We, having watched movies of this kind before, know better: Helen and Roxanne are two facets of a dissociated personality, the third being the downtrodden, mouselike Heidi (Price yet again, obviously). Through Heidi, the other two are at the capricious mercy of the vile Clootie (Millen), who took “them” in when “they” were, in effect, orphaned, and then brutalized them.

Morton Hall Millen as Clootie.

The Road from Erebus appears to have been intended as a theatrical feature but then, having done the festival rounds, been picked up by HBO. It seems to have been shaved by a few minutes—there are some slightly odd bits of editing which I attribute to this. The budgetary restrictions are fairly plain to see. And, ignoring the obvious shakiness of the story’s logistics (just how, for example, does Helen hold down a full-time job while Roxanne is evidently a full-time sculptor?), there’s one major plot thread left dangling at the end.

Where the movie scores, though, is in its inventiveness of approach. While working in the office at the publishing house of his father, Max Atman (Brown), and dealing with the Big Name author he’s been assigned, Elan Alms (Balitski)—who doubles as a sort of spiritual mentor for the young man—Barry is covertly keeping a journal; he wants, like editors in movies usually do, to be a writer. What he’s written in the journal is used as a device through which we see flashbacks (in modified color) of his first encounter with Helen in the restaurant—three different versions of that encounter, in fact. Clearly he’s honing his recollections, initiating the process of turning experience into fiction.

Paige Balitski as Elan Alms.

That shifting of the sands makes us cautious about other aspects of the movie. How real are some of the other bits? Could Clootie be a fourth personality of Helen’s divided self? And how reliable are Barry’s perceptions, or at least the presentation of them that we’re seeing? Have they, too, been filtered into a fictional form?

There’s something dreamlike about the narrative, emphasizing this latter uncertainty. As a single example, when Barry first meets Roxanne she’s working in a studio populated by other students of a gallery owner (Pemberton); mesmerized by her attempt to seduce him, he suddenly looks around to discover that all the others have vanished—as if they’ve been forgotten by the writer . . . the writer who is Barry himself.

Bob Brown as Max.

The movie’s aware of its precursors. The use of mirrors to portray the different facets of Helen seems on occasion almost to visually quote a much older movie about a dissociated individual, Lizzie (1957). I’m sure there are further parallels that I missed with earlier “divided self” movies.

The several faces of Brenda Price as Helen and her “twins.”

Brenda Price does extremely well with the dual role of Helen and Roxanne, conveying their different personalities quite subtly, sometimes shifting from one to the other before our eyes, the transition being signaled by a curve of the lip, a squaring of the shoulders or a shift in the gaze. I was naturally puzzled that I wasn’t familiar with her from other screen appearances, and discovered that she gave just a handful of performances, mainly for TV, before giving up her screen career in 2007 to go be a Christian radio broadcaster instead. According to her website,

I have been in show business my entire life! It’s been an adventure in modeling, theater, tv, movies, and the last 15 years, it’s been radio! . . . Along the way God had an entirely different plan for me! I was addicted to a sinful nature and I hit rock bottom. It was time for Jesus to step in and knock some sense into me! He needed me to fall in order to raise me into an awesome new person!

If you go into The Road from Erebus expecting something slick in the Hollywood mold, you’re going to be severely disappointed. But, for all its flaws (don’t get me started on its portrayal of the day-to-day activities in a publishing office), I found the movie really quite rewarding.

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