Ancient Romans believed the human soul escaped one’s body with their dying breath and that last breath held disease curing and life prolonging power. Locally shot and produced film “Respire” explores that myth and carries it to the Nth degree.
Director David A. Cross has assembled a thinking-man’s horror film that is equal parts suspense thriller and gore-fest. This indie feature, (released February 15th on DVD and available at Amazon) features a superior performance by Annapolis-based actor Tracy Teague and A-movie quality special effects (artfully done by visual effects supervisor Jeremy Morrison).
The film opens with the murder, by an unseen shooter, of a Dr. Randolph Efrayim Kaminsky way back in October 1936 in Baltimore, Maryland. As Dr. Kaminsky lay dying in his living room, he tells his wife, Verna (Lynn Mastio Rice), who witnessed the shooting, to take a mysterous wooden box and get out of the country, back to her folks in 1930s Russia. Before doing so, she gives the doctor a drug in the form of a blue liquid and as he dies, captures his last breath in a glass vial and seals it with wax.
In the ensuing montage we see the box change hands several times over, from Verna’s untimely death at the hands of Nazi soldiers, to an American WWII vet’s den in the 50s, through the 60s, 70s, 80s–all the way to present day Hempstead, Maryland, where Susan Jordan, played by Teague (seen recently in Leaving Hollywood aka Diary of an Ex-Child star), buys the box at a yard sale for her antique shop “Second Chances”.
It turns out that a second chance is exactly what Susan needs, as we learn she is terminally ill, having six months to live. As we see Susan take handfulls of pills, down booze and puff weed, we can feel her anguish, angst and despair. Teague inhabits these emotions and gets the audience to feel them along with her.
Fast forward to a curious gentleman by the name of Raif C.Collins, played with layered motivations by Mat Wright, who comes into Susan’s shop one day looking for both the box and a certain book, “The Soul Eternal” by Altee Elmont. Raif offers 20,000 big ones to get Susan to obtain the book for him at an auction in New York City, later we learn, to help find a cure for his terminally ill sister–apparently.
Susan promptly cancels a $5,000 online bid for the box by one Alex Poe (Vince Eustace), who she outbids for the book after they meet in person in New York. Why is the book so important? It holds the key to the box, which contains Dr. Kaminsky’s vials of breath, one of which Susan promptly breathes in, instantly curing her of her malady, but giving her a very nasty anger management problem. “No more tests, no more pills, no more needles, no more nothing!” she yells at her doctor after he tells her sickness is in remission but suggest more tests. Later on, watching her beat down a would-be shoplifter is downright scary.
Along the way, we find that Raif and Alex, and Alex’s girlfriend Ruby (Ellie Torrez ), are not who they appear to be. It seems Raif, Alex and Ruby, despite their youthful appearance, have been living for a longer than normal lifespan and know a lot more about Dr. Kaminisky’s 1930s breath experiments than they have let on. When Susan and her shop help Nina (Jessica Keeler), find more breath vials and a film of Dr. Kaminsky’s experiments in an abondonded prison (Susan inherited the doctor’s memories, you see), a mad chase ensues to secure Dr. Kaminsky’s vials of breath and the formula for the drug that makes the breath-capture-cure work.
Teague lights up the limited scenes where she’s happy and there’s hope (this is a horror movie after all). She inhabits a plethora of emotions throughout the film: nervousness, despair, hope, joy. You’ll love her crafty performance. Teague looks splendid on camera; the camera is her soul mate.
I liked Vince Eustace as the mysterious Poe. There is a cool understatedness about him; with his beard and ponytail, Eustace looked like a younger Al Pacino. British actress Ellie Torrez as Ruby has a partly scary psuedo-sensual torture scene with Mat Wright’s Raif, involving broken whiskey bottles, that will leave you beaned, steamed and dry-cleaned.
A superb horror film this is. Add it to your DVD collection.
* * * * Stars
Rated R – Some bloody violence, language and brief nudity
Available for purchase at Amazon.
For more information visit www.mtivideo.com.