What You Can't Promise
11 Nov 2021
Richard Fysh, Maria Tauber
Anyone with reservations about listing their property on Airbnb will want to see What You Can’t Promise, an introspective and elusive drama featuring a mysterious houseguest.
When a stranger (Maria Tauber) turns up at his deceased father’s country home claiming to have reserved the place for a stay-cation, Gareth (Richard Fysh) reluctantly permits the woman to stay – despite never having heard of the house being listed anywhere for rentals. The woman identifies herself as Ursula, and engages the pensive Gareth in long, late-night discussions about his life, his wants and his desires. But when Ursula’s stories of her own life don’t add up, Gareth becomes suspicious about her true nature.
Character and dialogue-driven, What You Can’t Promise is an intriguing and almost uncharacterizable film which will engage audiences with a central mystery and a perplexing female lead. Director (and star) Richard Fysh smartly allows his own performance, as well as Maria Tauber’s, to take centre stage throughout the film’s run, opting to shoot most of the film with a static camera in order not to distract from the carefully crafted and natural dialogue, or from the telling physical language from the pair. It’s a brave move, and one that could have backfired if not for the strength of the highlighted elements. But the inherent quality allows for this smaller scale production to click.
The film handles its central mystery well, and viewers will be drawn into the question of just who Ursula is, and what she is doing at the house. Clues and hints dotted throughout her interactions with Gareth are well-hidden and reveal enough to create a discomfort around her presence without giving the game away too early. Maria Tauber’s enigmatic performance is perfectly attuned for the role as well – and viewers will relate to Gareth’s inability to dismiss her through sheer magnetism. The film does suffer somewhat upon a second-watch however once viewers are aware of the reveal, as much of the film’s emotional draw relies on the audience’s own uncertainty.
The lower production standards come to bite the film in regards to sound editing, with some scenes overly difficult to hear and dialogue at an inconsistent volume throughout. This gets to be frustrating, especially for a film that relies so much on conversations. Other production limitations are largely dealt with well, with the film demonstrating supernatural elements using intelligent and improvisational methods. There are however still some awkward edits and cuts which could have been ironed out.
The film also feels a little overlong in some areas, largely resulting from the level of focus required from the viewer to the exchanges between the lead pair that are central to storytelling. The absence of a score, and single-location setting, can also becoming fatiguing. However, the film does remedy these as it draws towards its conclusion, when the story begins to ramp up.
What You Can’t Promise succeeds in both entertaining audiences, and exploring its own concept thanks to engaging dialogue and two strong performances. Once its central question is revealed to the viewer, technical issues and an un-invigorating setting chip away at its enjoyability. However, this smaller scale production deserves real praise for trusting in its bread-and-butter elements of plot, script and performances – without which no film can succeed.