Star Rating: ★★★
Directed by: #GregoryHatanaka
Written by: #GregoryHatanaka
Starring: #ShaneRyan, #ScottButler, #SarahRine, #LisaLondon, #SalLandi, #ChrisSpinelli, #BarrySattels, #BryndaMattox, #NicoleDAngelo, #TaniaFox, #JocycelyneLew, #SaigeSpinney, #BellaCruz, #JenniferField, #BennyTjandra, #HaileeLipscomb, #AnthiaGillick
The relatively short feature 2020 Choke sees Gregory Hatanaka direct a tale of overlap where a detective and serial killer have a fleeting affair - if you will - with the same girl Jeanie/Peyton (Sarah Brine), a woman seems to offer the duo some kind of stability in whats often a hectic or broken lifestyle tab by the two Male leads.
Now I found a fair few ‘positives‘ to this title if I’m being perfectly honest and really make it entertaining in the face of some of its lesser qualities. The most obvious of these stand out aspects was cinematography, right off the bat the picture quality is incredible, from stock footage to original cinematography. I wouldn’t say it’s revolutionary or a reinvention of the wheel by any means but I found resemblances to Drive and more fittingly The Colour out of Space only a version of both that is more toned down and infrequent. That said, there were quite a few moments of intense, multi-coloured hazing which was genuinely a rather stunning composition. In all, Hatanaka did a fine job behind the camera and that’s probably what saved the narrative for me, it at least captures his vision at true and close as possible.
For a while I’ll focus on the Narrative, the dual leads of Brandon (Shane Ryan), and Robert (Scott Butler) mirror each other quite well to a degree - at their core the two are almost villainous and to heap some more credit it does a fine job in humanising two deplorable figures which is something I find rarely done and incredibly tough to pull off successfully. If you want a few examples then look at say Lolita in one of its forms or Suzanne by Plan B, so there’s a little context with those in the picture, It genuinely felt somewhat natural and just rather than a forced framing device. While I wouldn’t say it’s the textbook example of how to humanise an outright villainous character, I have seen far worse and was surprised when it beat my expectations. As fine as it does work, I did find myself a little jarred when the character focus switched, I knew a little of what to expect from the synopsis and was looking for a balance between characters but didn’t find the way it was executed to be organic in any sense, especially as the men are diametrically opposed, one killer, one cop - I just felt as though there was an easier way of integrating the dual protagonists. If anything, my gripes with the narrative are related solely to the concept. As one would expect, Choking plays a large role in the film but its weirdly gratuitous. Shane Ryan’s character has that as his MO and it clearly drives his character so fair enough, but I don’t find the way it translates to others as natural. It struck me as convenient and incredibly odd that these minor characters also had the same kind of ‘fetish’ if you will. Ryan‘s opposite, Robert seems to share the same sexual desire in pain and miraculously the two men find an array of females and a small cult who all dabble in this self-inflicted pain. It’s a weird one cause as outlandish as it is, I found it being one of those odd cases where it would benefit from a longer run time to really be more engaging and grounded too.
I can’t really say much bad about the film as I struggled to really settle on anything that was particularly stand out. Obviously I have a few teething issues with the narrative but little else save from the acting quality. I won’t drag anybody in the cast as it’s crossing a line to do so but let’s just say there was a major disparity in quality. Outside of the core cast of three stars: Ryan, Butler and Brine, with maybe the exception of Lisa London, practically everybody else was just spouting exposition. There wasn’t really any supporting characters of note and I would go as far to say we didn’t even really see some ‘foil’ characters that propped up the film. It’s not really endemic of any major problem and the support is more of a minor feature so thankfully they weren’t all that present to spur things but it left things a little flat as a result. The leads make an atmospheric outing as do a number of other form aspects that conspire to build its own identity, but perhaps the most important aspect of the film just let it down.
In all I would recommend Choke it’s certainly an outlandish film that is, perhaps, an acquired taste but given its filmic qualities and brief run time, I believe many would find some fun in this, just was something I saw as ‘middle of the road’ and slightly undone by its own flaws.