From a story by star Josh Tonks and writer-director Alexander McGregor Birrell, The Latent Image is about thriller author Ben (Tonks) seeking inspiration in a cabin in the woods. Well, at least that’s what he tells himself for the retreat. See, his partner, Jamie (William Tippery), and Ben have been going through a rough patch, so the trip allows them both to reset themselves and their expectations going forward.
The good news is that Ben is making real progress on his latest novel. But he awakens to find a Man (Jay Clift) injured and sprawled out on the couch. The stranger claims to be a hunter, and Ben agrees he can stay to heal up. But the Man makes himself a little too comfortable, taking to reading the writer’s unfinished manuscript. This actually proves helpful as he’s able to challenge Ben to truly revel in his fictional killer’s mindset. How exactly does the Man know so much about murder and death? Why is Ben so drawn to him despite the creepy red flags all over the place?
The Latent Image is a compelling thriller, though not without a few flaws. Well, only one, really, but it’s annoying. The narrative relies on the whole “previous scene was a dream” trope to the point of undercutting what’s happening. The film is a tight 83 minutes long, but that tired cliche is used at least half a dozen times. It makes it very difficult to get into what happens next, as one expects it all to be another dream.
“…able to challenge Ben to truly revel in his fictional killer’s mindset.”
With that said, individual moments do gather up quite a bit of tension, largely thanks to the cast. Clift makes for an enigmatic, eerie figure, while Tonks is easy to root for. The two of them have a wonderful push-me-pull-me repartee that adds to the creepy atmosphere. Tipperary doesn’t have a huge role but proves memorable and shares real chemistry with his on-screen love. This trio allows audiences to stay invested in their characters even when the plot is on unsteady ground.
Beyond the performances, The Latent Image intrigues all watching because of the cinematography and music. For essentially being a one-setting story, director of photography Michael Elias Thomas makes the cabin a foreboding place. Each room is lit to maximize its uncomfortable qualities, meaning Ben can never feel at peace within the rental. Alex Gregson and Jack Hughes have composed music that unnerves as much as the visuals. The score adds to the general sense of unease in a big way.
Then there’s the ending. The final 10 minutes or so, revealing all the cards in play, are stupendous. For all its flaws, the plot wraps things up in a succinct, moody way that has some impressive staying power.
The Latent Image relies too heavily on the “it’s all a dream” to the point of the plot being a bit messy. But creepiness wins the day, thanks to decent characterizations and a strong cast. When coupled with the music and cinematography, Birrell’s sophomore feature film has more to recommend than not.
For more information about The Latent Image, visit its Cinephobia Releasing page.
"…wraps things up in a succinct, moody way..."