Overview: After he’s caught shoplifting by an obsessive security guard, a famous writer finds himself pulled into a maniacal and possibly deadly forced friendship. XLrator Media; 2015; Not Rated; 92 minutes.
Caught in the Act: Almost 25 years ago, Sandy Duffy released his first and only book. Entitled A Patch of Fog, it was based on a traumatic childhood incident where he got lost for 4½ hours in the backstreets of Belfast when an impenetrable fog descended on the city. The book brought him instant literary success, a prestigious teaching position, and a regular guest-spot on a TV program discussing art. But over the decades Sandy has grown to hate and resent the damned thing. And with the book’s anniversary fast approaching, the stress and anxiety mutated into an uncontrollable kleptomania. For a time, he was able to get away with his petty thefts. But while trying to rob a convenience store, he gets stopped by a friendly-looking security guard named Robert, who beckons him to the back room. Regarding him with the glee of a cat catching a mouse, Robert methodically torments Sandy with threats of his arrest, exposure, and ostracism. But that can all be avoided, just as long as he grabs a drink with him after he gets off from work.
It’s not too terribly hard to see where director Michael Lennox’s A Patch of Fog is going after these opening scenes. From the moment we see Robert (Stephen Graham) at home feeding his pet snakes dead mice, we realize that this lonely little man has been waiting patiently for a victim of his own. But he doesn’t want to hurt Sandy (Conleth Hill). He just wants him as a friend. And if that takes blackmail, then so be it. In an odd way, their one-sided friendship reminds me of Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951): a mentally-unbalanced man forcing a celebrity into a relationship based on what the one is convinced the other wants and needs. And to Lennox’s credit, his film is at its best when detailing the disturbing ways Robert worms himself into Sandy’s life. In addition to unannounced home visits, he enrolls in one of Sandy’s college classes. When Robert’s dyslexia prevents him from reading Sandy’s book, he “requests” that he record a custom audiobook for him. When Sandy begins an affair with a colleague, he breaks both their windshields in a rage.
Brilliance Shrugged: But far from being a destructive relationship, in a shocking twist, Robert’s friendship seems to help Sandy. There’s a brilliant sequence where the two smoke pot in Sandy’s lavish living room. As they talk about themselves and their lives, it becomes apparent that this is probably the first time in literally years that Sandy has been able to truly be himself. And for a time the film seems to be throwing off the thriller genre in exchange for a black comedy about emotional Stockholm syndrome. But no, Lennox directs his film right back towards predictable monotony by having Sandy break into Robert’s apartment to steal a CD containing the footage of his shoplifting. What the stupid git forgets is that Robert, the security guard, might have his own cameras set up in his house. And so continues their destructive dance; Sandy trying to outsmart Robert, Robert getting the upper hand, rinse, lather, repeat. There’s an admittedly ingenious scene involving Sandy’s methods of discrediting Robert’s incriminating footage of him breaking into his apartment that involves a “multi-media project” and his college students. But I’ll hold my breath for those who want to see it. Why ruin the film’s only truly great scene?
And Now A Word From Our Sponsors: A Patch of Fog is one of the latest acquisitions from XLrator Media, a distribution company I have already discussed at some length in my recent review for Kill Ratio. Essentially, XLrator specializes in direct-to-video genre schlock. But every now and then they release a film like Giles Borg’s superlative Flutter (2011). Much like A Patch of Fog, the film is a high-concept British thriller. Though I have my misgivings about A Patch of Fog, it’s one of the more intriguing thrillers I’ve seen in some time. I hope the distribution of ambitious international genre films becomes more central to XLrator’s business model. I would love to see them distribute films like Rohit Mittal’s Autohead (2016), an Indian thriller that just missed my Best of 2016 list, because I happened to see it in January of 2017. British genre films would make a great entry point for people eager to explore international cinema, not the ponderous, infuriating art films that make up the majority of what gets imported to the States these days. If XLrator is willing to give more films like A Patch of Fog and Flutter a shot, I’m willing to be right here to support them.
Overall: The film is infuriating in its predictability, right down to its poetic but preposterous climax.
Featured Image: XLrator Media