HOT Day 5: Lyle

lyle-posterSpoilers ahoy: Lyle is a fairly new movie, just now available On Demand and on iTunes. This discussion will include spoilers, so if you plan on checking the movie out, do that first, then come back. Onward!

When I first heard about Lyle, thanks to an online marketing campaign, it was billed as “Rosemary’s Baby with lesbians.” I didn’t bother watching the miniseries remake of Rosemary’s Baby that came out earlier this year; I like Zoe Saldana, but when you are a person who regards the original as not just a great horror movie but your own personal favorite film of all time, you don’t bother with the second-rate version. But a reinterpretation set in modern Brooklyn with two female leads? My curiosity was piqued.

What’s good about Lyle is that it really is a reinterpretation. It takes the basic structure of Rosemary’s Baby — young couple (one of whom has aspirations for a career in the arts), new baby on the way, new apartment, creepy neighbor, paranoia — and tosses a few new ideas at it. As the young couple, Leah (Gaby Hoffmann in a solid performance) and June (Ingrid Jungermann) aren’t just expecting a baby; they already have a toddler in tow, a little girl named Lyle who suffers a fatal fall from a window that Leah is certain she didn’t leave open.

lyle_aThis opens the story up to become an exploration of grief. Unfortunately, the time we could spend watching how Leah’s grief transforms her and her relationship — not to mention how it converges with the increasing paranoia she feels — is collapsed. We see Lyle vanish, and then seven months later, we see Leah insist that she’s no longer “inventing” stories about how Lyle died during a session with a therapist. The therapist, meanwhile, looks on skeptically as Leah bursts into hysterical laughter at how disappointed June was to discover that their soon-to-be-born baby isn’t a boy. We see the end effect of grief, but there’s a missed opportunity here, I think. Especially in a horror movie, where tension needs to build before the climax, it helps, sometimes, for the viewer to see the lived experience of the characters. Instead, we get this jarring jump ahead, and Leah’s suddenly a paranoid mess.

LYLE-stillOnce she starts to suspect that her paranoia isn’t entirely off base, the movie quickly clips through the familiar beats:  creepy shit starts happening in the apartment where Lyle died; Leah confides in a seemingly concerned and well-meaning neighbor; the weirdo landlady grows weirder and starts talking about pacts with Satan; and June grows more and more distant even as she enjoys more and more career success. Lyle, then, becomes a new take on the themes at the core of Rosemary’s Baby, but it’s a glancing one, dispensed with too quickly to really engage with any of the ideas it initially lays on the table.

This may be partly due to the nature of the film’s production. Originally conceived as a web series by writer-director Stewart Thorndike, it became a film when Thorndike realized it would work better as a single piece. She was also working with a tiny budget and planned to make the movie available online for free just to attract support for her next feature, but when distributors took interest in the film, Thorndike realized she had a potential Lylestilltheatrical release on her hands. Ultimately, though, she stuck to her decision to release the film herself. (It’s available now On Demand and on iTunes as a $3.99 rental.)

There are the seeds of a lot of great ideas in Lyle that don’t quite get explored to satisfaction. But Thorndike seems like an energetic director with interesting ideas; right now, she’s seeking funding for her next horror film, Putney, which she describes as “a haunted TED Talk.” Color me intrigued. While Lyle turned out to be a decent snack rather than a full meal, I’m still interested to see what Thorndike comes up with next.

Stray observations:

  • I'm as sick to death as the next sucker with found footage and tech-heavy horror movies, but Lyle does manage to pull off a pretty great scene during which two character Skype with each other while the goings-on in the background of one Skype window slowly ratchet up the tension.
  • "Stewart Thorndike" may sound like a male director's name to you, but Thorndike is, in fact, a woman. And she wrote an essay about why horror is good for women.
  • Here's a piece on the influences and themes behind Lyle, as well as an interview about Thorndike's decision to go a nontraditional route with filmmaking.
  • If you hate yourself, have a look at the trailer for the Rosemary's Baby remake and marvel while Ruth Gordon rolls in her goddamn grave.
  • I swear I'm not obsessed with pregnancy and babies and motherhood and how they all get portrayed in horror movies. It's an interest, but not an obsession. It's just that Halloween-o-Thon has apparently become sentient and decided that these are the things I need to think about this year.