Right from the opening scene, this new thriller from Winnipeg filmmaker Sean Garrity pulls you in.
Nicole (Michelle Giroux) is a married mother of two, living in a Toronto suburb and working in a pharmacy. She's just an average forty-something woman--at least until she gets a letter that begins: "You don't know me, but I know you." Signed only "a friend," the letter invites her to start a close, slightly kinky correspondence. With an escalating series of rewards and required tasks, flattery and quiet threats, this new "friend" insinuates himself (or herself?) into Nicole's life.
Director Sean Garrity in action on the set (Sean Garrity)
Garrity is an indie filmmaker who is drawn to genre movies. He's brought his original point-of-view to the relationship movie (Inertia
), the surreal mystery (Lucid
), even the sex comedy (My Awkward Sexual Adventure
, due out in Winnipeg this spring).
Always poised between the art-house and the multiplex, Garrity has found a sweet spot with Blood Pressure
. Co-scripted with Winnipeg writer Bill Fugler, the film has an immediate and irresistible narrative hook. But it also invests in the quieter qualities of character and setting and mood, making for an intimate and effective little psychological thriller.
We can understand why Nicole might be drawn into this strange intrigue. Nicole's kids don't talk to her, except to say things like, "Mom, I need a ride to Newmarket," or "Mom, I'm taking 20 dollars from your purse." Her boss patronizes her. Her husband doesn't listen.
The letter writer, on the other hand, seems to have knowledge of Nicole's secret heart. During their anonymous but weirdly intimate exchange, he arranges little treats for her, he tells her that he understands and appreciates her. At first, Nicole seems unsure whether this is a cute crush or a sinister stalking.
Then the letters slowly raise the stakes, asking Nicole to observe a stranger (played by Winnipeg-born Jonas Chernick), then to break into his house. By the time we get to a surprise "gift" of shooting lessons at the nearby gun club, it seems clear that this will all end badly.
As the complex and conflicted Nicole, Giroux commands the screen. She's in every scene, and the film's success rests on her reactions, on her face. Her strength is that she is equally believable as a steely, sexy film noir heroine and as an ordinary middle-aged, middle-class woman.
This is also the strength of the film. While Blood Pressure
rides the thriller plotting, it also gives careful attention to Nicole's suburban life, with all its frustrations and limitations. While the suburbia-is-hell theme has been overdone in cinema, Garrity and Fugler give this particular trope a nuanced, generous and unexpected treatment. Nicole's husband and kids (nicely played by Judah Katz, Josh Epstein and Tatiana Maslany) are real people, not just props.
Once the secret is out, the tension dips a little, the plausibility is slightly strained. (This is a pretty common issue in thrillers.) But if the plot machinations aren't as neat in the final 15 minutes, Blood Pressure
still carries us along, with its compelling characters and its palpable sense of the alienation and disconnection of modern life. Blood Pressure premieres at Cinematheque on February 22 and screens the 23, 24 and 27.
describes shooting in Toronto and finding the creepiest suburb he could.