Is this a masterwork of emotional suppression, or just emotionless? Alex Karpovsky, best known as a favorite supporting player of popular young indie directors, directs his third film, a slow-boil character study that flirts with genre. Is it a psychological thriller? Well, until it finally (finally!) boils over, it’s more like an anti-thriller, a workaday portrait of a scientist who drunkenly hooks up once with a coworker and, months later, is still secretly obsessing over her. Karpovsky stars, too, as this psychopath; usually the comically smug and shaggy friend in films by directors like Lena Dunham or Andrew Bujalski (you guys, he’s in Girls!), here he casts himself against type—clean cut and bespectacled, unsmiling, his social awkwardness not a quirk but actually a symptom of severe mental illness.
The film neglects to indulge that craziness for a while, leaving it buried, playing it straight. That’s easy to do; what’s harder is to suggest simultaneously something amiss, which Karpovsky generally does in interludes—uneasily scored with electronic beats and lighted too harshly or dimly. Slowly, spadeful by spadeful, the script digs deeper into this disturbed character. His private longing, suggested by the occasional furtive glance held a beat too long, manifests in secret activities like soliciting prostitutes and stalking; his fixation, of course, eventually erupts in violence. Karpovsky and Garth Donovan’s screenplay is way too obvious in its pat, momma’s boy psychologizing. But Karpovsky’s direction at least allows us to wrestle awhile with the banality of psychopathy.
Rubberneck debuts at the Tribeca Film Festival tomorrow at 6 p.m., and plays again on Monday the 23rd and Saturday the 28th. More info here.
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