He Never Left

He Never Left
Original title:He Never Left
Director:James Morris
Running time:97 minutes
Release date:Not communicated
After hearing strange noises coming from a nearby motel room, a federal fugitive and his girlfriend inadvertently become the targets of the notorious Paleface Killer, whose legend has haunted the local community for decades.

Mulder's Review

James Morris makes an impressive directorial debut with He Never Left, a suspense thriller that captivates from the start. The film opens with a chilling prologue that sets the tone, offering a glimpse into the dark history of Larsen City, a small town plagued by a killer known as the Pale Face. For over a decade, the community lived in fear, but one day, Pale Face vanished, leaving the town haunted by his memory. This chilling story provides the backdrop for the film's narrative.

The story introduces us to Gabe, played by Colin Cunningham, a federal fugitive on the run. He arrives in Larsen City with a clandestine agenda, seeking refuge with his former girlfriend, Carly, played by Jessica Staples, in order to escape the clutches of the pursuing authorities. Unbeknownst to him, the city still bears the scars of Pale Face's reign of terror. It's here, in a local motel, that the stage is set for the intense, suspenseful events that follow.

He Never Left is a slow-burn thriller that makes masterful use of the power of paranoia. Gabe's arrival in Larsen City is far from a simple visit or business trip; he's in hiding and has to keep a low profile. His task is simple but excruciatingly difficult: stay in the motel room, unseen by anyone, and wait for a call from his criminal contacts to extract him unharmed. The film's success lies in its ability to create an oppressive, claustrophobic atmosphere within the confines of the motel room. As time passes and Gabe's isolation intensifies, the walls seem to close in on him. This sense of confinement reflects Gabe's deteriorating mental state, haunted by memories of past mistakes. Colin Cunningham's performance as the paranoid, tormented Gabe is remarkable, adding to the film's tension and suspense.

The narrative of He Never Left gradually expands to include the mysterious return of Pale Face, and it's at this point that the film introduces ambiguity. Is Pale Face really back, or is the killer a figment of Gabe's tormented imagination? This uncertainty adds depth to the story and keeps viewers on the edge between reality and illusion.

Despite its many strengths, He Never Left has its share of challenges. One of the main criticisms concerns the film's pace. The film tends to linger on a single note, missing the opportunity to develop the plot in a more engaging and dynamic way. The slow build-up, while effective in creating tension, may test the patience of some viewers. However, the film's climax and final moments compensate for some of these pacing problems. This is where He Never Left delves into its darkest and most fascinating territory, unveiling secrets and revelations that, while somewhat predictable, add a layer of disturbance to the narrative. Some may regret that this level of intensity wasn't integrated more consistently throughout the film.

He Never Left takes a bold and unexpected turn by focusing on the events unfolding in the motel room adjacent to the expected action. This decision pays off thanks to Colin Cunningham's performance as Gabe, an amoral, whiny, rage-filled fugitive with a penchant for self-justification. Gabe enlists Carly and an associate, Andrew, in his escape plan, setting the stage for a farce full of dark humor and suspense.

The film's narrative is more akin to a farce than a traditional slasher, with Gabriel finding himself in more and more trouble as circumstances accumulate and he becomes entangled in a web of lies. His struggle to maintain the image of an honest man, despite his morally questionable actions, serves as the central theme. As Gabe's difficulties mount, the film plunges into the absurdity of his situation, in the manner of a classic farce.

Intermittent cuts with the US Marshals conducting their investigation add an interesting dimension to the story, but they can sometimes seem less urgent than Gabe's ever-worsening dilemmas. Tension mounts as the presence of Pale Face begins to infiltrate Gabe's hideout, leading to an intriguing and unconventional denouement.

He Never Left is a thought-provoking, unconventional thriller that relies on a solid performance from Colin Cunningham. Although the film's pace could be more dynamic, it excels in creating a claustrophobic, tense atmosphere. The exploration of paranoia, self-justification and the blurred boundary between reality and illusion adds depth to the story. The film's final moments, when dark secrets are revealed, are particularly unsettling and leave a lasting impact. He Never Left is a solid feature debut for James Morris, and his unique approach to storytelling sets him apart in the thriller genre.

He Never Left
Written and directed by James Morris
Produced by Michael Ballif, James Morris
Starring Colin Cunningham, James Morris, Charla Bocchicchio, Jessica Staples, David E. McMahon, Alicia Oberle Farmer, William McAllister, Hailey Nebeker, Landon Kasten, Sean D. Hunter, Lily Aranda, Jagger Woolstenhulme Jaclyn Pace, Adam Zeller, Tommy Morris, Zel McAlllister, Bryce Atkin, Kenna Morris, Samuel Morris, Jaren Soto, Trena Soto, Jake Watters, Mary Ellen Wolfe, Michael Morris, Jacob Coleman, Kyle Groves, Yasmine Torres, Olivia Morris, Kasey Foster, Gary Tidwell
Music by Randin Graves
Cinematography : Michael Ballif
Edited by Michael Ballif , James Morris   
Production companies : Witching Season Films
Release date : NC
Running time : 97 minutes

Viewed on October 29, 2023 (press screener)

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