It’s like panning for gold, this business of rummaging through a summer’s indie releases, looking for a nugget in a cinema season that produces blockbusters, and little else.
But here’s one. “Every Time I Die” is the best no-budget thriller of the summer, moody, cerebral drama about a guy who carries his guilt about a childhood loss through multiple soon-to-be-murdered bodies in search of redemption.
Tensely-plotted, sharply and sympathetically-acted, nerve-wracking and touching, this supernatural tale arrives a startling delight in a summer packed with pyrite at the bottom of the gold miner’s pan.
We meet Sam (Drew Fonteiro), dazed and in bed with Mia. He is smitten, but staring into the bathroom mirror before his shower, he is further confused.
Sam is a paramedic who spends his days with the world-weary Jay (Marc Menchaca), a beery, seemingly happy go-lucky guy with the dark cloud of a suicide attempt and the medication meant to stave off another on his person.
Jay senses something forlorn and broken in Sam, but Sam won’t hear it.
“I never actually wanted to die…”
“There’s more ways to kill yourself than actually committing suicide,” Jay counters.
“I’m not like you…a different kind of crazy.”
Jay is married to Poppy (Michelle Macedo), and with Mia (Melissa Macedo, yes they’re sisters) they’ve planned a weekend at a lake house. They insist Sam come along.
Well, not Mia. Her soldier/husband Tyler (Tyler Dash White, fierce) is back from duty overseas. She’s been cheating on him with Sam, and if Tyler figures this out, there could be trouble. Mia wants Sam to not show up. But he does.
Hazy, time-bending flashbacks let us drift with Sam back to the events that haunted his youth — a beloved little sister he promised to “always protect,” a failure to keep that promise, the shattered family, the probing questions of what we assume is a child psychologist.
Sam still carries around a Three Little Pigs tin box with childhood mementos and photos. To say he’s “haunted” undersells what he’s going through.
That weekend get-away is going to bring everything to a head, his past and Mia’s present, and that’s when the dying in “Every Time I Die” raises the stakes and lifts a pretty smart movie into the realm of a thriller that plays.
It’s not a chatty movie. Director and co-writer Robi Michael is more interested in gauzy camera effects, snatches of overheard conversation forcing us to fill in between the blanks, keeping it cryptic.
The “mystery” here has a surreal feel as the film maintains, after a fashion, its opening gimmick — seeing all this through Sam’s eyes.
Fontiero (TV’s “The Last Ship”) plays Sam as introverted, introspective, not sure what he can reveal about himself, not sure which “reality” he trusts.
When you’re a guy who counts his fingers to see if the moment he’s in, or thinks he’s in, is just a dream, your disconnect is strong.
The Macedo sisters (from “Girlboss”) have less to play, but sell the film’s big conceit — that Sam isn’t himself, especially when he turns up in another body.
Menchaca has a soulful vibe he taps into here and that softens Jay into somebody we can believe would be barely hanging on, but still desperate to help his paramedic partner. And Tyler Dash White may be playing a stereotype — the combat vet with the hair-trigger psyche — but he plays the hell out of it.
It’s simple. It’s artful without overreaching, gloomy and brooding by default, suspenseful only when it needs to be.
Maybe you won’t get to see it in a theater, but remember the title — “Every Time I Die.” You’ll want to find this gold nugget on some weekend when Netflix is serving up more pyrite.
MPAA Rating: unrated, violence
Cast: Drew Fonteiro, Michelle Macedo, Melissa Macedo, Marc Menchaca, Tyler Dash White
Credits: Directed by Robi Michael, script by Gal Katzir, Robi Michael. A Gravitas Ventures release.
Running time: 1:37