Gazer (2024)

Gazer Review

Gazer (2024)

Picture “Gazer” as a tragic movie about mental decline without music, and you might start to get the idea of what the most intense robbery scene in this film looks like. Just like Ansel Elgort’s tinnitus-afflicted getaway driver, Frankie (Ariella Mastroianni) needs to put her headphones on before she embarks on any dangerous job. But she’s not listening to Queen or The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.

The struggling single mother suffers from dyschronometria, a degenerative mental disorder that makes it impossible for her to perceive time accurately. Seconds melt into minutes; hours blend with days. She never knows when she is. It can be worked around inconveniently if your biggest fear is missing a doctor’s appointment or zoning out at work. But if you have minutes to steal car keys from a dangerous man’s apartment before he comes home, the stakes get higher. So she pre-records instructions for herself second by second, hoping that hearing her own voice will keep her present. When the doorknob turns and she has to hide under the bed, though, all bets are off: Her choreographed plan falls apart, and she has to figure out how to escape on the fly with no net and no internal clock.

“Gazer” combines the frenetic paranoia of “After Hours” with an unreliable protagonist à la “Memento,” then adds in some body horror that could be lifted straight from “Videodrome.” It’s a debut so good that it should restore your faith in independent cinema, self-financed by first-time director Ryan J. Sloan on 16mm between shifts at his day job as an electrician. A white-knuckler that never stops feeling fresh despite having many of its classic Hollywood influences tattooed on its sleeve Sloan works ’70s sleaze and “By god, this goes all the way to the top!” conspiracies of classic noir in equal measure “Gazer” stays so within its own orbit that it never threatens to become an homage to anything in particular. The film might be New Hollywood–inspired, but its very existence is almost enough to make you believe we could be on the verge of a similar filmmaking renaissance.

Frankie doesn’t understand time in any conventional sense, but she knows her clock is ticking. Her young daughter is being brought up by her dead partner’s mother, who hasn’t let Frankie see the girl since the state deemed her an unfit parent for not being able to complete daily tasks. She can tell the child is growing up in a home that is neglectful at best and potentially much worse, and her window to have any memories with her daughter is closing fast. Doctors tell Frankie that things are only going to get worse for her mentally and soon she’ll be unable to live by herself. She needs just a little money stashed away for her daughter’s future before she becomes too incapacitated to fight for the girl’s safety, but even the most basic jobs fire you for bad time management.

The position may appear hopeless, but Frankie is offered a lifeline at a self-help group for trauma survivors by a woman who goes by Paige (Renee Gagner), explaining that she saw her staring through a window while her boyfriend beat her up. Paige says she’s trying to leave an abusive relationship and doesn’t have anyone she can trust; she has devised an escape plan, but needs someone her neighbors won’t recognize to go into her apartment, grab her car keys and hide the vehicle somewhere safe. She offers Frankie thousands of dollars for one night’s work and Frankie can’t afford to say no to anybody who’ll pay.

On paper, it sounds like the perfect heist: two strangers using each other’s tragedies as tools to bring themselves closer to freedom. But things get complicated after Frankie follows instructions exactly. Paige ghosts her without paying up, but that becomes the least of Frankie’s problems once the cops show up at her door; Paige never picked up her car, but they did and there was a dead body in the trunk. With Frankie’s fingerprints all over the steering wheel, she’s now the prime suspect in a murder case about which she knows nothing.

Mastroianni carries the film as Frankie with her paranoid performance; donning a choppy pixie cut and drab clothes, she blends into New Jersey’s grey scenery as she slinks through motels and houses with peeling paint in hopes of clearing her name and getting back custody of her daughter. As reality slips away from under Mastroianni’s character more and more, hallucinations immerse Frankie in what starts looking like an entirely different world than anything around her. But regardless of how warped Mastroianni perceives everything becoming, earthly desire to regain custody of daughter keeps grounding her enough for continued forward movement through this foggy mess. Unreliable yet deeply relatable characters like these are crucial elements within thrillers themselves; Frankie’s mind may be the best device for untangling this strange web she’s found herself within.

Frankie might not have long once “Gazer” ends, but Sloan and Mastroianni are just getting started.

Watch Gazer For Free On Gomovies.

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