Usually, whenever I see the term “Lynchian” to describe a film I roll my eyes in my head. Then I roll them a bit more. Then a bit more again. The whole process goes on until I end up weeping in A&E with ocular trauma. I do not like David Lynch as a director. I do not gain enjoyment from his films. Too much style over substance, the spectacle replacing the narrative form which is annoying because his use of Jungian story worlds is something so far up my street it’s asking me to look after the dog while it’s on holiday.
Which is why I think it is unfair to call Camille Thoman’s Never Here (2017) a Lynchian film. It’s far superior to much of Lynch’s work while maintaining the Jungian story world I crave.
Artist Miranda Fall (Mireille Enos) opens her new installation exhibition under questionable ethical circumstances. After having discovered a mobile phone belonging to a member of the public, as she explains to reporter Margeret Lockwood (Nina Arianda), she has put together an art exhibition of the man’s life, stalking him around the city as she photographs him without his knowledge, interviewing people on his contact list, stuff that would normally have you escorted away by the authorities.
I would like to reiterate at this point that Miranda is the protagonist.
It is that night, however, that things begin to turn. A violent assault is witnessed in the street by Miranda’s lover and agent Paul (Sam Shepard). The victim, it later transpires, is Lockwood. With Paul unwilling to contact the police, Miranda steps up to report the assault using the description he gave her which culminates in trying to identify a man she didn’t see. Normally this would be a movie in of itself but later, when her installation is attacked, Miranda notices a man from the police line-up she dubs S (Goran Visnjic). With the need for new inspiration, Miranda begins to stalk S through the city and, in doing so, discovers too many connections to home.
Normally I don’t write so much about the plot of a film, just enough to give someone a flavour of the story but with such a complex movie anything less would sell it short.
Never Here is a film that does narrative and pacing correctly. A mystery in which the lines between art and reality are as blurred as the line between madness and sanity, it leads you along one possible path of the story before ripping it out from under you, spinning you around and pushing you along another course. Normally when a film has an abundance of plot threads you’re left with something that feels like it’s been shredded a few times at every stage of production. Here, however, they work. Following them along they either come together at the end or act as red herrings to throw you off in the wrong direction. A film that makes you confused because of poor writing and editing will always leave you feeling cheated of the precious moments of your life you’ve wasted watching it, while a film that makes you confused on purpose only acts to heighten the enjoyment and the payoffs in the end.
You might feel, at times, that it seems like the characters are 2D cardboard cut-outs and you’d be right. They’re supposed to be. The whole story can be said to take place in a single mindscape populated with the Jungian pantheon of archetypes that each character represents, the Shadow, the Persona, and the Self. It feels like a 1920’s German expressionist film; an outstanding swansong for the late Sam Shepard.
In terms of production, it is very much style to create substance. The more you watch, the more you begin to realise that each little detail has far deeper undertones than you originally thought. From the documentary style of Miranda’s home with handheld shots, crash zooms and limited area of microphone pickup to her Beautiful Mind (2001)-esque photos and records of S to the apparent non-sequitur establishing shots, each is another building block to the story, each one telling you a different, oftentimes contradicting each other that will have you asking “why did the focus change there twice?” or “why is this being shot in the mirror?”.
I really could go more and more into this film. It’s a brilliant example of psychological thrillers done well. Beautifully shot, each frame is a painting with a hidden meaning drawing you deeper into the story; making you question what is real.
Dir: Camille Thoman
Scr: Camille Thoman
Cast: Mireille Enos, Nina Arianda, Sam Shepard, Goran Visnjic
Prd: Julian Cautherley, Radium Cheung, Bronwyn Cornelius, Erika Hampson, Corey Moosa
DOP: Sebastian Winterø
Runtime: 110 minutes