The story behind “In Flagrante” is much more interesting than the story that ended up on the screen. Steve Mims, who teaches a well-respected filmmaking course in Austin, Texas, turned his 1998 class into a full-fledged feature production team. Several of the students wrote scripts, and Tom Chamberlain’s “In Flagrante” was chosen as the project that would be filmed. The rest of the students worked in various capacities on the crew, and all were credited as producers.
Certain limitations were placed on the script: few locations, few characters, few…anything that costs money, really. Without knowing much about the other competing screenplays, it seems a safe bet that the winner was chosen more for its cost-effectiveness than any superior storytelling. “In Flagrante” concerns a young couple who buy a house in an unfamiliar neighborhood. Their new neighbors, the Dalrymples, welcome them with open arms. But it doesn’t take long for Colin and Mia to decide that there’s something a little…off about the family next door. Rumors circulate up and down the block, and Colin becomes convinced that the Dalrymple children have bumped off their father for getting a little too intimate with daughter Sissy – whose annual Ode to the Summer Solstice dance is a big hit with the dirty old men in the ‘hood.
Are the Dalrymples what they seem – or are they just misunderstood? It’s a “Twilight Zone”-ish concept that might sustain a half-hour, but is deadly even at a trim 71 minutes. “In Flagrante” has a flat, atmosphere-free visual style that is to be expected when the director of photography is chosen by picking a number between one and a hundred. (It’s true!) As an experiment in communal filmmaking, “In Flagrante” holds some academic interest, but raises a few questions as well. Why, for example, was the author of the winning screenplay handed the directorial reigns as well? And how did that sit with the student who ended up, say, doing craft service? Call me selfish, but I’d be asking for my tuition money back.