A darkly comedic “Taken” through the eyes of Fincher & Lynch.

FANTASTPOA Film Festival 2024, Brazil screened the world premiere of Listen Carefully, the fourth writer-director moment from multi-hyphenate filmmaker Ryan Barton-Grimley (AKA RGB) is a hostage-heist indie for the new generation.

Abstract is the perfect way to describe this film, which is part dry comedy, part action-thriller and part psychedelic nightmare sequence. A lo-fi ‘lovechild’ of David Fincher & David Lynch is probably a succinct way to sell it; with a a tonal marinade of Jim Cummingsfilms (The Wolf of Snow Hollow, The Beta Test)

Barton-Grimley plays Andy, a stressed out (and fairly spineless) bank manager who, whilst on babysitting duty, loses his newborn Abby to a kidnapper, which is -I’m gonna say it- maybe the worst thing a parent can do. ‘Bad Andy!’ *slaps wrist*.

All hope is not lost because, thanks to the magical powers of a two-way Baby Monitor with a signal range of infinity (an “issue” addressed in the script), he goes on a wild goose chase to get back his baby, under the thumb of an ‘unknown caller’. Until watching this, I never realised that Abby is an anagram of Baby. Does this add to the Nolan-esque tint to the script? Maybe. Probably not.

I thought about the signal range for a brief second but then realised I didn’t care at all because it was such a fun premise. If you enjoy films in the world of Phone Booth, Cellular and The Matrix this might be for you, though Listen Carefully is nowhere near as self-serious as those.

The anonymous phone call in The Matrix might not be the only element these films have in common, as Listen Carefully also ditches the bounds of reality as you start to wonder what is real and what is fabrication.

The hostage-heist genre often follows a nothing-special passerby as its protagonist. But they are generally persistent, even overzealous, so the choice to make Andy a real schlub for most of the film’s run time is a hoot. This guy has a glass of milk and a sandwich for dinner while his wife Allie Simone Barton-Grimley is, for once, going out on the town instead of (solely, it’s implied) looking after their baby.

This is a wonderful touch because it sets up a guaranteed opportunity for our protagonist to grow (and grow a backbone) if he is ever to see his daughter again. His blasé approach to life might annoy some viewers but this is definitely a character piece not to be taken to heart.

Where this film perhaps loses battery is its repulsion to tying up any loose ends, and there are a lot. A series of ever-growing dream sequences pit Andy against a gang of hooded figures wearing disturbing baby masks. They are edited to all hell with glitchy effects, intercut with shots of Andy covered in blood with a hammer in hand, leaving much to be questioned.

Some movies end abruptly with an open-ended finale, which can topple a film’s brilliance if it is not satisfying to the viewer. In this case, it’s left so wide open that there are a number of possible outs, and most of them are interesting. We’re essentially presented with two different films spliced together, and you get to decide what you think went down.

To some, this might feel like a cop-out, but Barton-Grimley’s sheer creativity makes me think that if he wanted to write a clean payoff, he would have been more than capable of delivering. However, it probably wouldn’t have hurt for Listen Carefully to at least hint at a fixed ending.

There are a couple of memorable side-characters who get in Andy’s way: namely the Bank Office’s custodian Thomas, played by Richard Gayler whose role is brief but effective, and Andy’s ego-tripping boss, played by Patrick Pankhurst in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, yet still manages to sell the controlling asshole with ease.

Now, onto the man calling all the shots, the voice of Ari Schneider, who brings the Baby Monitor to life with captivating command. Schneider is excellent in this role, playing a classic blend of tormentor and “best friend”; Good Cop/Bad Cop. His dialogue is quick-witted, sardonic and key to upholding these high stakes, which he does with cheeky malice.

I’d like to briefly discuss the titular Baby Monitor, which is presented as a cute, emotionless Owl. Giving the baby monitor “a face” is inspired because we spend a fair amount of time looking at it, so it’s only right to give it a familiar shell we can connect with. When Schneider begins to give Andy orders, suddenly the innocent bird’s facade is adorned with an evil villain’s voice, transforming the lifeless plastic ornament into an all-powerful antagonist. The juxtaposition is hilarious, especially when the foul language and threats start pouring in.

As someone who only recently watched all three Taken films and passionately hated them, this was an ice-cold refreshment for the genre. It’s well-paced, weird and wonderful. Depending on your knack for armchair detective work, you could have a ball trying to calibrate the whole ordeal. Even a 40,000-word thesis on this picture would be much less stressful than having kids, let alone losing one on your watch.

FANTASTPOA Film Festival continues, with plenty more films, until the 28th of April.

Abstract is the perfect way to describe this film, which is part dry comedy, part action-thriller and part psychedelic nightmare sequence. A lo-fi ‘lovechild’ of David Fincher & David Lynch is probably a succinct way to sell it

3.5 tombstones out of 5…
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Jared Jekyll

Jared Jekyll

Jared Jekyll (they/them) is a writer and performer with over 20 years experience on the stage and screen who has now turned their interests almost exclusively to Horror (and Musical Theatre).

They like to indulge in the entire spectrum of Horror cinema, with a soft spot for the bizarre, and a guilty obsession with slashers, regardless of quality.

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