“Night Sweats” is a nervy indie thriller that never quite overcomes the malnutrition of its budget.
I mean, kudos for casting and shooting it in New York, on the fly, for a just (unconfirmed) $200,000. The story and the most of the action beats, and some of the performances, don’t give away the game.
Sure, we can tell the characters from The Centers for Disease Control are wearing haz-mat suits from an auto body shop paint booth, and are tooling around in a white van with only plastic sheeting in the back as disease “containment.”
A restaurant and apartments all look real and lived-in (and probably are), and if the various offices you want to know aren’t convincing, roll all the action into streets, stairwells and entryways. Which they pretty much did.
That kind of inventive thinking was a hallmark of Orson Welles’ post-Hollywood movies. But the cheapness (Frank Zappa spelled it “Cheepnis” in his ode to no-budget thrillers) can’t help but get in the way in a story about contagion and conspiracy in New York city.
“Night Sweats” arrives in New York with Yuri (Kyle DeSpiegler), a Boulder Colorado skateboarder who moves in with his old pal Jake (John Francomacaro).
He’s barely had time to adjust and find coffeeshop work, when he meets Jake’s friend, waitress-who-wants-to-be-an actress MK (Mary Elaine Ramsey). And things are just getting interesting with her when Jake starts vomiting and slips into a seizure.
Next thing they know, Jake is dead. The flippant medical examiner (Allison Mackie) suspects poisoning. And as Yuri frantically tries to detox the apartment (covering his face with a bandana, because SAFETY FIRST), he starts to puzzle over what really happened.
The EMT (Brett Azar) who barged in, mid-seizure, claiming he heard what was going on “next door” was odd. Him fleeing before the “real” EMTs arrived was odder.
And there was this company Jake worked for, a start-up called True Healing, where he videotaped survivors of trauma for a website’s video library, “data” that apparently has value to Big Pharma.
As the medical examiner expresses alarm at what she’s finding, Yuri sees connections to True Healing and decides to go undercover, taking Jake’s old job, “interviewing” these trauma survivors on video. His boss (John Wesley Shipp of “The Flash”) is VERY touchy about how these interviews should go.
“Stick to the G– D—-d SCRIPT!”
Whatever happened to Jake, it’s happening to others. Could Yuri catch it? MK?
And what is UP with that EMT, who seems to show up –by motorcycle — every time somebody gets sick?
Writer-director Andrew Lyman-Clarke finesses a simple, conspiracy-minded script with a lot of disorienting close-ups, little tricks of having the players run down the street holding a camera on themselves at chest level.
Yuri’s “interviews” with trauma victims have some edge. DeSpiegler’s reactions to what he’s seeing run hot to cold. Sometime, we buy that he’s frantic and fearful. Other times, his callousness and lack of self-preservation defies the logic of the situation.
There’s one funny scene having to do with scaring some answers out of True Healing’s resident germaphobe.
But the suspense is often undercut by the cheapness. Characters say they’re calling for cops who never arrive, vehicles, costumes and haz-mat suits look so cheap they can’t be anything the “real” agency or city bureaucracy would put out for bids, with layers of specifications, and equip themselves with.
So even people who might be what they say they are lack visual credibility. The viewer suspects everyone, because the filmmakers didn’t have the money to give characters authority in their costume. Or hire people to play cops.
The germ of a good idea is here, the dialogue isn’t awful even if the finale kind of is.’ The biggest “name” in the cast is the only one who goes too far over the top. And the simple effects — nothing’s cheaper than vomiting up whatever soup they fed the actors — come off well enough.
You can’t grade on the curve, so no praising “Night Sweats” for its budget. Stick to that rule and what we’re evaluating here is an intriguing cut-rate thriller that (unfortunately) looks it.
MPAA Rating: unrated, with sexual content, substance abuse, mild violence and profanity
Cast: Kyle DeSpiegler, Mary Elaine Ramsey, Allison Mackie and John Wesley Shipp
Credits: Written and directed by Andrew Lyman-Clarke. A Witness release.
Running time: 1:39