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By Bobby LePire | May 10, 2023

Sebastian (Billy Blair) is a talented piano player. However, he’s addicted to alcohol and drugs, which makes him unreliable. As such, he fills in at this or that bar as needed and does not have a steady gig. Sebastian’s sister, Elise (Lori Petty), is very sick, and her medical bills just keep mounting. So, the musician borrowed thousands of dollars from a crooked cop. Said police officer Terry (Jason Coviello) calls in the debt one night. However, he doesn’t want Sebastian to pay back the money; he needs the man to kill someone. This request sends the hard-knocked musical artist into a dark journey down the rabbit hole that is the city. So goes the plot of writer-director Derek Presley’s Tonic.

The titular bar holds a lot of promise for the main character, as there’s a chance he’ll play there tonight. Well, that is if he can get there by midnight, which gives Sebastian a time crunch in which to commit murder. Presley wrings a lot of tension out of this deadline, as it is not immediately clear whether the piano player can or will kill the intended target. This means the story isn’t obvious, keeping audience engagement high.

“…he doesn’t want Sebastian to pay back the money; he needs the man to kill someone.”

Immensely helping in that regard is the star of Tonic, Billy Blair. The actor inhabits the soul of Sebastian, making him tough to like but easy to root for. His only humanity comes out when it involves his sister, and Blair and Petty share wonderful chemistry in that regard. Petty creates a whole character in just a few scenes. Coviello is fun as the slimeball detective, while Ed Westwick is fun as the high but intense intended target. Ammie Masterson is classy and sweet in her brief but pivotal role. Richard Riehle is terrific in his little cameo.

But the definite sense of place pushes this dramatic thriller into marvelous territory. The seedy city Sebastian saunters through is a vibrant cesspool of villainous scum. It is a real place the filmmaker guides viewers through. Every street is both inviting and unwelcoming at the same time. From the excellent use of shadow and light to the way the camera lingers on the sidewalk, each locale is exquisitely captured.

Tonic is an absorbing thriller with a triumphant lead performance by Billy Blair. The sense of atmosphere and place is truly remarkable, and the characterizations are good. While the story isn’t the most original, its ending is immensely satisfying, and everything else about the production is on the top shelf.

For more information, visit the official Tonic website.

Tonic (2023)

Directed and Written: Derek Presley

Starring: Billy Blair, Jason Coviello, Ammie Masterson, Vernon Davis, Richard Riehle, Luke Barnett, Lori Petty, Ed Westwick., etc.

Movie score: 9/10

Tonic Image

"…an absorbing thriller with a triumphant lead performance..."

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