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By Bobby LePire | May 10, 2024

Handshake is writer, director, and star Robert Shupe’s second feature-length film. The thriller begins with Devin (Shupe) being led into the woods. He lost the drugs he was supposed to sell, and his bosses do not take kindly to that. But Devin manages to give them the slip, wading quite a ways downriver. Here, he meets Bill (Joe Basso).

Bill’s fly fishing is not going so well, as Devin is splashing and stomping and disturbing the usually scenic river spot. Even still, the older man agrees to help the desperate younger one. He gives him dry clothes and a lift into the nearby town. Over a thank you meal at a diner, Devin explains that he owes several thousand dollars due to his screw-up. Bill discloses that he, too, is in a tight spot, money-wise. He then proposes a solution to fix it all: Bill will pay Devin, a relative stranger, to kill him. This way, Bill’s family can collect the insurance payout, and Devin will get the money he needs to get out of trouble. But of course, nothing’s ever simple or easy when it comes to murder, or in this case, assisted killings.

Handshake has an awkward opening. Devin is awfully flippant for someone, a single bullet to the head away from being dead. Mind you, the gun with said bullet is in the hands of one of the people leading him around. Devin’s quips and talking back are amusing but also do not set up the stakes or the lead’s true feelings on the matter very well. But once Bill enters and Devin evaluates the gravity of what’s being asked, things pick up considerably from a character standpoint.

Bill will pay Devin, a relative stranger, to kill him.”

Storywise, Shupe throws in several compelling and unexpected curveballs. Unfortunately, just about all of them would spoil various aspects. As such, know that the plot goes from Hitchcockian to ethical drama with ease. The ending also takes another big, necessary swing, and it lands without a hitch.

Shupe navigates Devin’s snarky exterior but fragile interior well. The way he tells a server that he was thinking of asking for her number, despite having a girlfriend, comes across as a dick move. But later on, one realizes it’s more of a coping mechanism than anything else. Basso is amazing. In a scene that involves a knife and a steering wheel, the sheer determination and primal power he exhibits show how badly he wants to die. Mabel Maultsby plays Devin’s significant other, Erica. She sells her loyalty and love to him with sincerity.

Handshake is a surprising story that is well-told. While the first scene doesn’t totally work, the majority of the 112-minute runtime is engaging and clever. The cast, especially Shupe and Basso, is strong and understands the material from top to bottom and inside out. The ending is most telling and absolutely works as intended.

Handshake (2024)

Directed and Written: Robert Shupe

Starring: Robert Shupe, Joe Basso, Mabel Maultsby, etc.

Movie score: 8/10

Handshake Image

"…a surprising story that is well-told."

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