Rapid Eye Movement
Run Time: 1 hour 48 minutes
Stars: Francois Arnaud, Reiko Aylesworth, Danny Ramirez
Writers: Peter Bishai, Brennan Smith
Director: Peter Bishai
In Theaters and Streaming on Amazon Prime
This nifty, efficient thriller has absolutely everything a small independent film needs: a clever premise, engaging characters, resourceful casting, and tight vision.
Director Peter Bishai’s movie is reminiscent of the late-1970s heyday of Canadian indies, when a breathtakingly diverse set of films — including The Silent Partner, Terror Train, and the Oscar-nominated Atlantic City— showed everyone just how much can be accomplished onscreen with a little bit of money and a lot of heart.
Francois Arnaud (The Borgias) stars as Rick Weider, a failing New York City radio jockey who hits on an ingenious idea to boost his ratings: He’ll broadcast live from a glass booth in the middle of Times Square, never sleeping a wink for 11 days, at which point he will have broken the world record for wakefulness.
Cynically, he ties his self-serving stunt to raising money for a rare childhood disease, and that’s his big mistake. He happens to have chosen a sickness that killed the daughter of a psychopath (gravel-voiced David Rhodes) who calls the station and orders Rick to earn an impossible $5 million from his wake-a-thon — or he’ll kill him.
Of course the cops don’t believe Rick. They’re certain he’s just upping the stakes for his publicity stunt. And his wife is going to leave him if he goes through with it. And he’s got jealous co-workers who just might be sabotaging the whole enterprise.
Arnaud does a nice job as the self-satisfied radio jock who steadily devolves into a paranoid, sleep-deprived mess. Director Bishai may well have cast Arnaud solely on the basis of his startlingly expressive eyes, which do more to convey mounting dread and panic than a multi-million-dollar CGI budget ever could. The best-known member of the consistently crisp cast is Reiko Aylesworth (24), who provides solid support as Rick’s producer.
By economic necessity, indie films keep a tight focus when it comes to their locale, and Rapid Eye Movement makes ingenious use of one of the best: Times Square in New York City. Filmed on location over a two-week period, the movie effectively channels New York’s uniquely gritty brand of street energy in a way we haven’t seen since Joel Schumacher stranded Colin Farrell on a Manhattan curb in 2002’s Phone Booth. Cinematographer Alex Craig pulls off a neat trick, simultaneously evoking the twin curses of life in the big city: naked exposure and suffocating claustrophobia.
Full Disclosure: Cinematographer Craig and producer Aaron Craig are nephews of mine.