“World weariness” is a given in any film noir about a mystery somebody’s trying to solve.
It’s in the sleepy eyes of the mystery-solver, be he or she a gumshoe, a relative or just “a friend” of the missing person. That’s underscored by voice-over narration, the tried-and-true way a detective or whoever lets us know how wearing this all is to him, how jaded this world has made her, how resignation’s the only appropriate response when “No one gets out alive” is the only hard and fast truth in life.
It doesn’t just hang over actor turned actor-writer-director Avan Jogia‘s debut feature, “Door Mouse.” It’s ladled on and laid-on thick. The whole tale doesn’t take place after dark, but it could have, and the smokier and foggier the better. The action is confined to short bursts, and damned few of those.
Nobody speaks in anything but a monotone, as if they’re imitating our heroine and narrator, the spanker/stripper by night– “horror porn” comic author by day nicknamed for her distinct Minnie Mouse hairstyle.
“It was a full packa cigarettes sorta night,” she narrates.
“You’re lookin’ down deep wells, little Door Mouse,” she’s warned.
“You can only crawl on the ground so long before the dirt starts stickin’ to ya.”
Jogia, who’s turned up in supporting roles in lots of film and TV series since graduating from the teen hit “Victorious,” has crafted a consistently-moody noir parked firmly in the underbelly of Toronto, and a film that taps into comic book imagery to create transitions between scenes, illustrate the artist-heroine’s frame of mind and jazz up the action.
Because that’s necessary. Because even the action beats are muted. Nobody raises her or his voice. And that flat, just-above-a-whisper monotone that was star Hayley Law’s choice of “How to Noir” just smothers the movie.
The “Riverdale” star sets the tone and the volume, and “Door Mouse” kind of dozes off because of it.
“Mouse” narrates her life, “Every morning I wake up in the afternoon,” takes a hit of coffee, sucks down a cigarette and draws away at her “bi-monthly horror porn” comic “Whoreific,” which nobody buys.
By night she burlesques at Mama’s, a club where bustiers and paddles for spanking are all part of the show, which “Mouse” and Doe Eyes and Irish “Riv” deliver and regulars like Eddie (Donal Logue) lap up. “There are worse ways to make a living,” Mouse admits. But it keeps the owner, Mama (Famke Janssen, on the money) in fishnets.
One night Doe Eyes doesn’t show up, and Mouse resolves to go figure out what’s happened to her. Her dutiful “silver spoon” lapdog Ugly (Keith Powers) tags along. And that’s the “deep well” our heroine slow-walks into, a sordid world where fetching young women disappear and nobody seems to give a damn.
I like the plot here, a mystery that Mouse doesn’t want help solving, but that forces her to hit up her dealer ex-boyfriend (writer-director Jogia) and figure out ways to infiltrate whatever world made Doe Eyes disappear.
But there’s no urgency to any of this, not the Doe hunt, not the scheming up ways to get into this high-tone hotel which may have some answers, not the mysterious stranger who may or may not know what happened to Doe Eyes, and thus must be chased.
The comic book connecting scenes work, and the violence, when it comes, is a shocking contrast to the low-energy/low-heat movie surrounding those moments.
Whoever advised Law to play the part this quiet and “cool” to the point of chilly should sit down and watch a few Bogart noirs. Characters may narrate or converse in even tones, but every now and then somebody gets worked up — a cornered suspect, a mark, a desperate victim and/or the hero/heroine who has just about had enough.
It’s human nature. And it’s a must in a movie that otherwise is in danger of turning into a nap before we figure out what Door Mouse figures out and decides what needs to be done.
Rating: Unrated, violence, sexual situations, partial nudity
Cast: Hayley Law, Keith Powers, Avan Jogia, Michela Cannon, Nhi Do, Donal Logue and Famke Janssen
Credits: Scripted and directed by Avan Jogia. A Gravitas Ventures release.
Running time: 1:41