“I would tell them that they better look behind them”
In the vein of other psychological horror thrillers delving into the dark recesses of the mind, Phil Newsom‘s short Simple Mind captivates above its ultra-low budget. Shot over the course of two days with cinematographer Paul Nameck—his only other crewmember—the film succeeds or fails depending on whether or not you believe the two central characters engaged in therapy session dialogue. If you can look beyond the camera’s poor audio capture and meticulously abstract framing that hides things too well, there is enough to entertain and serve as a calling card for two first-time filmmakers.
Unfolding via flashback as Bob (Timothy J. Cox) bares his soul to his psychiatrist, we watch as his unsettling lurker stalks Samantha (Kristi McCarson) through the park. Talking as though the two were intimately involved, we quickly see the truth is more complicated. Following her home with a gift of red slippers, a doorbell is ominously pressed and the gravity of the situation is exposed through a matter-of-fact confession. Cox delivers an effective performance, creepily recounting the story with a tint of romance before changing to the cold, clinical tone of a professional who performs his job with complete confidence and efficiency.
While Cox and McCarson play their roles nicely, the problem occurs in the scripting. A few visual cues reveal truths directly before scenes still trying to keep up the lie. Rather than appear smart deflection, however, the instances only add confusion. As Bob rings her bell for instance, Samantha is shown applying lipstick as though in anticipation of his visit. While a great maneuver for manipulating the audience, it’s all for naught since we had just finished watching him stalk her from behind a book. So, rather than play with preconceptions, it merely becomes contradictory excess. Luckily, revealing Bob’s penchant for less than savory deeds isn’t Nameck’s final flourish.
Simple Mind is therefore a flawed but fun film showing some inventive ideas in need of a little massaging. As a first attempt it ambitiously looks to keep us on our toes, but its production constraints are definitely apparent. And while the ultimate deception is one we’ve seen before, its familiarity shouldn’t detract from the nicely orchestrated reveal. More natural blocking and stronger ambiguity early on would have paired nicely with Cox’s touched soul to really make the story pop. The potential is there, though, and hopefully we’ll see Newsom improving and excelling beyond it with his next.
Watch it for yourself on YouTube: Simple Mind.