Writer: Sherry Klein
Director: Martin Guigui
You know it’s coming; when the cute fluffy dog appears you just know its days are numbered, for Paradise Cove is a psychothriller and it never ends well for pets. Martin Guigui’s new film penned by Sherry Klein and released on digital download this week has a daft TV movie plot but overcomes its surprising lack of tension and conventional set-up with committed performances from its well-known leads.
‘Flippers’ Knox and Tracy Bannett return to his late mother’s Malibu beachfront house ready to turn it into a $6 million sales opportunity. The ocean views are spectacular but the semi-burnt-out house is filled with junk and has an unwelcome resident – Bree, a glamorous homeless women living under the property with a score to settle. As construction begins, Bree is determined to disrupt Knox’s plans and will stop at nothing to chase the couple out.
The first 30-minutes or so of Paradise Cove sets up a slightly better film than the one that eventually transpires. The arrival of outsiders in a small community already frustrated by second home buyers is a well-developed concept while the limited timescale for Knox and Tracey to ‘flip’ the property, reap the rewards and move on to their new life establishes useful parameters for the drama. The addition of Knox’s own legacy issues with his mother’s memory and the couple’s fertility problems also offer a variety of different pressures that give depth to the character portraits.
Yet, once Bree is introduced and the two sides wage an eviction campaign against the other, Klein and Guigui seem unsure which of the thriller facets they want Bree to embody, which often confuses the film’s tone as well as an audience unsure who to support. There are acts of destruction, stalking, an unlikely number of entirely uninvestigated deaths and a wholly superfluous sexual subplot in which the much older Bree uses her allure to confuse and entrap Knox.
The allusions to Fatal Attraction are a little too stark, a crazed woman with a tragic backstory seeking revenge against the world and while Bree is rarely sympathetic, the sudden sprees of violence while repeatedly breaking into the Bannett’s home never quite ring true. The character of Tracey fares no better, an IVF-obsessed wife with nothing to do but fret about ovulation, hormone injections and pregnancy tests all while waiting for construction to finish. Bree may be ‘strong’ (by which the film means mad) and Tracy a passive victim but neither woman has any genuine complexity.
The central performances however elevate the material, bringing a conviction to their roles that sustains Paradise Cove during its 100-minute running time. Todd Grinnell is great as the pragmatic Knox whose quiet confidence is slowly eroded by Bree’s persistence. Convincingly devoted to his wife, Grinnell navigates some of Knox’s contradictory aspects by suggesting character flaws while retaining the audience’s empathy for the film’s hero.
Mena Suvari fills in some of Tracey’s two-dimensional elements, suggesting the pain and frustration of her thwarted attempts to start a family while her chemistry with Grinnell works well. Kristin Bauer van Straten relishes every moment of Bree’s batty but sexy persona, her husky delivery just off-kilter enough to make her a charismatic villain. She does however look unfeasibly attractive for a homeless woman with very expensively styled ‘beach hair’.
In resolving the story, Klein leaves an ambiguous fate for Knox but in creating the conditions for the inevitable final tussle between the leads, the refusal of the local police to support a clear trespass and harassment situation makes little sense. Guigui doesn’t control the tension as well as he could so the central couple never seem quite agitated enough as the weeks of persecution chip away at their resolve, but Paradise Cove is a very watchable beach-based thriller that, if nothing else, will have us all dreaming of our mythical future holidays.
Release Date: 12 February