Esme, My Love begins as a slow-burn drama, focusing on the relationship between a mother and her young daughter. As the two spend more time in the woods and memories of a mysterious past surround them, they soon succumb to a sense of dread. This relationship further develops amid unsettling discoveries within the woods. Evolving from an understated drama to a haunting thriller, Cory Choy’s thriller seeks to subvert every expectation.
Esme (Audrey Grace Marshall) is a young girl who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, and her mother, Hannah (Stacey Weckstein), decides to take her into the woods to reconnect with the past. The two find themselves camping under the stars and eventually staying in an abandoned home that once belonged to Hannah’s grandparents. Hannah is reminiscent of her time in the house, prompting Esme to “dig up the past.” However, what began as a mother-daughter adventure soon takes a twist for the unnerving and unexpected.
In a film featuring only two roles, so much weight is placed on the two leads. Marshall does an exceptional job as Esme. You believe every bit of her subtle performance, as she works brilliantly to bring out the motherly yet unstable side of Weckstein’s Hannah. Both actors highlight the characters, their relationships, and deteriorating sanity with nuance, building upon the material and adding subtext to the terrors they encounter.
“…what began as a mother-daughter adventure soon takes a twist for the unnerving…”
Writer-director Choy and co-writer Laura Allen do an excellent job subverting expectations throughout the movie. Esme, My Love has moments of scenic beauty, accompanied by dreamy melodies. These moments of beauty are expertly contrasted by haunting moments in the score, jolting the audience into moments of terror. Choy’s use of this contrast lulls the audience into a false sense of security with precision. What starts as a quiet story about parenting, childhood, and memory startles you into an unpredictable spiral of grief and loss.
Despite significant technical achievements across the board, the motion picture often lacks explanation or more appropriate revelations in its story. Ambiguity is a decisive factor in a thriller and drama, while ambiguity and experimentation can lead to groundbreaking cinema. However, a film needs closure, even when subverting genres. Avoiding spoiler territory, our conclusion in this movie is abrupt and seems uneven with the genres at play. By no means do Choy and Allen pull a bait-and-switch, but the twists and turns of the narrative would have a more powerful emotional climax if the audience is granted more insight into the action on screen.
Exploring characters, relationships, and allowing the past to die is at the crux of Esme, My Love. It features strong performances that accentuate those themes and bring complex emotions to life. Choy morphs the film from slice-of-life relationship drama to jarring thriller with skill, contrasting peace with severity with ease. Paired with a compatible score, this is a solid feat in filmmaking. The movie may take time to develop and needs a little more punch for its payoff, but it is still worth your time as a genre-mixing indie.
"…excellent job subverting expectations throughout..."