Remote

Efficient pacing and a couple of genuinely surprising developments elevate the eminently watchable if flawed Remote, a Canadian-produced short film that plays something like a much darker and (thankfully) much shorter variation on the little-loved 2006 Sandra Bullock/Keanu Reeves romantic melodrama The Lake House.

That largely forgotten Hollywood effort, as sappy as it could be (and, good God, could it be sappy), at least contained an intriguing, Rod Serling-lite sort of premise: two people who live years apart from one another in the same house find a way to communicate even though they’re separated by time. That’s not a terrible idea, and it’s definitely ripe for something other than the woefully mushy big-studio treatment it got.

Remote, from writer/director Marc Roussel, isn’t mushy at all, though it does hint at a potential romance between its lead characters and cleverly plays its genre intentions fairly close to the vest for a good amount of running time. If the film doesn’t quite hold together overall, it at least has the good sense to keep viewers guessing and not outstay its welcome.

“…their Facetime-through-time session is eventually interrupted when the film takes a turn into horror/suspense…”

The protagonist is Matt (Ron Basch), an average Joe who lives by himself as he glumly goes through divorce proceedings with his unseen wife. Holed up alone in his suburban home while a snowstorm rages outside, he’s startled awake by a blast of decidedly old-fashioned-looking static from his modern flat-screen TV. When he’s able to tune to a stable picture (hence the film’s title), he sees a room that strangely seems to be a mirror image of the one he’s sitting in – except that, in the TV-world, there also happens to be a young woman lounging in her underwear, who quickly discovers (to her understandable terror) that she can see and talk to Matt, too.

Her name is Justine (Sarah Silverthorne), and it’s revealed before too long that she lives in Matt’s house, 30 years in the past – and, thus, the person she’s improbably interacting with through her own television set is somehow coming to her from three decades in the future. You’d think this situation might be of the brain-breaking type, but for some reason, the idea of their respective TVs acting as a sort of weird time portal is gotten over almost immediately by both Justine and Matt; they accept the situation so implausibly quickly and calmly that it’s almost comical. Luckily for the audience, though, their Facetime-through-time session is eventually interrupted when the film takes a turn into horror/suspense territory – it’s not fair to spoil just how and why, but the shift in tone happens precisely when it needs to.

Misdirection and smart foreshadowing are among Remote‘s strongest assets…”

Misdirection and smart foreshadowing are among Remote‘s strongest assets, and they keep things interesting even when the staging, acting, and dialogue fall somewhat short; moments intended to be creepy, such as a protracted villain monologue, often come off a little too silly and over-the-top to fully connect. Similarly, the camerawork is slick and professional enough to be easy on the eyes throughout, but the visuals aren’t particularly atmospheric or expressive – they serve the story, but only just.

Remote does mostly work, though, and its 20 minutes breeze by so briskly that it’s definitely worth seeing through to the end. Roussel’s storytelling is clean, his characters are fairly sympathetic, and his concept is solid. Given Hollywood’s unimpressive track record with similar material, he’s made a decent case for small-scale filmmakers’ abilities to do a whole lot more with a whole lot less.

Remote (2011) Written and directed by Marc Roussel. Starring Ron Basch, Sarah Silverthorne, George Komorowski, Peter Racanelli, Julie McCarthy.

6 out of 10 stars

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