CATEGORIES Theatrical Reviews, Toronto International Film Festival, Toronto Film Festival, Reviews, Cinematical
If you happened to have caught either of Canadian filmmaker Carl Bessai's last two films -- the familial drama 'Mothers & Daughters' or the wrong-side-of-the-tracks romance 'Cole' -- you'd go into his latest, 'Repeaters,' expecting a simple and thoughtful indie drama. Not this time around. Though Bessai does maintain his pensive, character-focused style, he ups the ante to deliver a surprising and often kinetic look at what can happen if your days start repeating, a la 'Groundhog Day.'
Dustin Milligan -- given more to do than chill at Beverly Hills High in the first season of '90210' -- plays Kyle, an addict in mandatory rehab who faces his first day-pass out of the joint alongside friends Sonia (Amanda Crew, 'Charlie St. Cloud') and Weeks (Richard de Klerk, 'Cole'). They're on Step Nine -- making amends with the people they have wronged -- and that means Kyle heading out to apologize to his little sister, Sonia venturing to the hospital to see her father, and Weeks visiting jail to see his old man. But after a freak storm and strange shared experience, they begin repeating that one day over and over again.
With the repetition wiping out any pressures of responsibility, the trio begin to celebrate, finding a high point in their daily dreariness. They party, and when random indiscretions are not enough, they even rob a liquor store. But as the stakes continue to increase, from youthful folly to death-defying adventure, the trio breaks into two camps. Kyle and Sonia realize that they can't live out each day as if their actions have no consequence, while Weeks becomes increasingly unhinged, more dangerous each day, evolving from small-time crime to kidnapping and murder.
The film's biggest strength lies in its treatment of repetition -- both as a metaphor for addiction and as a means for stressing the importance of personal responsibility. These three young people are in a rut of indifference, forced out of complacency by a wild and supernatural event. They can no longer blow off or trivialize their steps -- they begin to realize the true importance of making amends rather than making enemies. But the three addicts are also forced to realize that as long as they remember these repeating days, there are dire consequences. They might be able to skirt judgment and punishment from the outside world, but they also must face the damage each act has on their psyches. Every dalliance changes them -- for better and for worse.
Though the film poses some interesting questions, and a cast that should pique interest amongst younger, mainstream audiences, 'Repeaters' doesn't quite reach the "breakout hit" level it could. Bessai doesn't completely embrace the flashy, kinetic genre style used in certain scenes, which gives a disjointed quality between the moments of drama and the moments of active suspense. At times, I even found myself anticipating extra flair -- especially when Kyle and Sonia chase after Weeks to confront him about his increasingly troubled actions. I waited for the sleek camera move, or some irresistibly adrenaline-producing tunes, but they never arrived. That's the problem with trying to balance a more commercially relevant idea and flashy techniques with personal indie filmmaking -- it's hard to have it both ways, and can often lead to assumptions the filmmaker has no plan to fulfill.
If some more time and resources were available to the production -- to seamlessly weave the drama with the thrills, the style with the simplicity -- 'Repeaters' could have been a game-changer for Bessai's cinematic world. But, as it stands, it's simply an enjoyable indie that offers a nice change of pace for Bessai fans, and a little indie fervor for fans of the stars.