As Jason Kartalian’s feature film, Seahorses, opens, Marty (Ian Hutton) has just welcomed Lauren (Justine Wachsberger) into the doorway of his apartment after their first date. It’s an awkward exchange, as Lauren is hesitant to enter, and Marty is confused, but doesn’t want to push matters. Her demeanor changes, however, and she makes her way into the apartment, proceeding to the bathroom to freshen up.
Once in the bathroom, however, she locks the door, removes her wig, revealing herself to be blonde instead of brunette, lights a smoke and basically sets up camp. Marty remains confused and his panic begins to grow on the other side of the door, as the woman he met on Craigslist is running a bath, taking phone calls and seems to have moved into his bathroom. As their communications start anew, the true “getting to know you” phase of their date begins.
Marty is a bit of a pushover, and Lauren isn’t afraid to give someone a shove. He seems incapable of reclaiming his apartment, but he also doesn’t seem entirely convinced that he wants to. Lauren initially doesn’t seem to think much of him, but she likewise hasn’t left him either. They’re both damaged and suffering, and only the rest of the evening will reveal just how deep the cuts go.
Visually, the film is alluring. From the color palette to the creative uses of lighting to the composition, the film makes a strong impression. Even if you find your interest drifting from Lauren and Marty’s personal dramas, your eyes remain engaged throughout. For a film that is predominantly two people talking in a single apartment, this is all the more impressive an achievement.
The mysteries of Lauren and Marty reveal themselves slowly, but the film doesn’t feel like it is dragging its feet too much. It does enjoy the space it is given to breathe in the edit, and that might not be for everyone. The pacing is measured, and those looking for something more rapid-fire will be disappointed.
The performances are strong, with Hutton’s Marty a visually intimidating presence undone by his insecurities. Despite his height advantage over Lauren, you’re less concerned for her safety than you are for his. For her part, Wachsberger remains the dominant force in the new found friendship, even as she cryptically dictates things from the other side of a bathroom door for a solid chunk of the film.
Overall, Seahorses comes together as an indie drama that excels despite its limitations; single-setting, two-character films rarely look and sound this good, while remaining as engaging. When the mystique of the film is broken, it’s not necessarily life-changing, but it’s still a quality experience.
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