Review: 'Every Breath You Take' an airless exercise in contrived and tedious storytelling
Courtesy of Vertical Entertainment
Once upon a time, studios churned out schlocky B-grade thrillers like Netflix produces investigative docs today. They were a consistently reliable draw at the box office, could usually attract big names in the vein of Mark Whalberg, Robert De Niro and Michael Douglas, and occasionally yielded a massive cultural hit like “Basic Instinct.” Some of that energy manifests throughout Vaughn Stein’s psychological thriller “Every Breath You Take” with its decent ensemble, and convoluted second act twist. But this domestic cross of a home invasion thriller meets campy stalker flick lacks a sufficient amount of surprises to make this airless venture worth the hassle. If not for a sadistically game performance by Sam Claflin, this film would be dead on arrival.
Stein - whose last film “Inheritance” at least had the self awareness to understand its not meant to be taken seriously - dabbles with a variety of ethical and moral conundrums throughout the film. Having already worked with Margot Robbie, Simon Pegg, and now Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan, Stein attracts the right talent, or perhaps the allure of making a quick buck between major projects is the recipe for success. Either way, “Every Breath You Take” takes a familiar formula - a rich, suburban elitist family is targeted by an unstable - usually thick accented - villain - and doesn’t take any creative liberties. The third act twist can be guessed in the first thirty minutes.
Affleck plays Philip, an esteemed therapist who has yet to contend with his own demons - the film opens with the death of his young son in a horrific car accident - and uses those internal struggles as a way to connect with one of his patients. Emily Alyn Lind’s Daphne comes from a dysfunctional background and a family who’s history of mental illness weighs down her stability. With the help of Philip, who makes the questionable decision of unraveling his own problems unto her in the hopes of creating a bond, Daphne has broken ties with an abusive, toxic boyfriend, and slowly starts to create normalcy in her daily life.
This ethical dilemma of breaking with patient/therapist precedent comes into play when Daphne - after a close friend is killed - takes her own life, throwing the credibility of Philip’s methods into question. Meanwhile, Daphne’s brother James (Claflin) has come home to deal with the loss and liquidate his sister’s assets - including selling the estate with the help of Philip’s wife, Grace (Monaghan) who is conveniently a real estate agent - before flying abroad and finishing a long gestating novel. But, as one can immediately assume, James isn’t the type of grieving sibling who just goes away. Showing up unexpectedly at dinner, and courting Philip’s problematic 16-year old daughter, Lucy (India Eisley) - who was expelled from her previous school for doing a line of cocaine - with sexual advances. Think “Cape Fear” minus the tension.
This all runs in circles as Philip tries to solve the riddles James constantly spews: “The deepest hurt I’ve ever felt was when I tried to do good and was shamed for it” which never ties cohesively into the picture though Claflin makes it a convincing statement. Screenwriter David Murray plays all the greatest hits of yesteryear and occasionally “Every Breath You Take” creates a moment of suspense (you’d never expect a scene where Philip and James move around a sofa would prove the most uneasy moment, but here we are) though the eventual payoff gets buried underneath monotonous stakes and, save for Claflin, wooden performances.
EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE opens in select theaters and and premium VOD Friday, April 2nd.