REVIEW: Here Lies Joe [2016]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★


Rating: NR | Runtime: 23 minutes | Release Date: January 21st, 2016 (USA)
Studio: Sweven Films
Director(s): Mark Battle
Writer(s): Mark Battle & Pamela Conway

“There is hope. There’s a way back to your life.”

Only dying can bring two people lost and finished with the world back from the brink of death. That may not make sense to read, but it does in my head. I think maybe writer/director Mark Battle and cowriter Pamela Conway will understand as their film Here Lies Joe deals with the issue—the hope bred from a vacuum of sorrow. To be alone is to embrace the end, yet to attempt suicide is to be anything but alone. There are thousands upon thousands who wrestle with the notion on maybe different levels of severity. Depression is a funny thing in that way as its isolation from “normal” might be the most normal state anyone could ever inhabit. The question is whether that despair can be overcome.

Joe (Dean Temple) is at the point of discovering an answer. His life is a shambles—his “transition” from normalcy in full flight and yet stalled with the prospect of what moving on truly means. We infer the reasons for his malaise by the myriad tokens from his past life strewn about a Toyota tripling as transportation, residence, and coffin, but we don’t really know. How could we? Such concrete notions are personal and watching twenty minutes of a life cannot provide those details. Instead we simply understand he’s lonely, afraid, and in need of someone to tell him to stop traveling the path he’s struck. Sadly the leader (Timothy J. Cox‘s Bill) and teacher’s pet (Mary Hronicek‘s Carol) of a random Suicide Anonymous aren’t them.

No, the only person able to approach his specific brand of sadness is the otherwise happy-go-lucky devil’s advocate Z (Andi Morrow)—a youthful ray of cyanide no one believes could be hurting as much as them. But there’s that false sense of knowing. The farcical assumption we know what everyone is or should be feeling: a lie we tell ourselves to stop from becoming just as desperate and mournful. We don’t know Z’s life or tragedy except for understanding that her sarcasm and attitude masks a deeper truth she’d rather face alone. Whereas Joe seeks assistance, Z pushes it away. He hopes for an answer he’ll never get from anyone but himself while she’s keenly aware of it yet doesn’t deem herself worthy to comply.

The two are therefore a perfect match in oblivion. They make each other laugh and they push the right buttons to force their counterpart to really understand why they are where they are. Sometimes that realization is enough to give pause and other times it simply provides the helping hand to get the job done. From there it’s up to fate to intervene—carefully laid but subconscious hiccups formed to prolong the inevitable so that aforementioned hope can prevail disguised as fate. We know exactly what’s going to happen because both Joe and Z set themselves up for their stories to play out like they do. Does that mean they weren’t ready to die? No. But it does mean they aren’t quite done with living.

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