by Drew Hunt
The films I've reviewed in this series thus far (Asad, Henry, and Death of Shadow) have been relatively tame in subject matter. So I was taken aback when Shawn Christensen's Curfew opens with Richie, a gaunt, wiry-haired guy—played by Christensen himself—wading in bloody bathwater, halfway through with slitting his wrists. It's a jarring image, to say the least, but the rest of the film is decidedly less grim. Before he can finish himself off, his phone rings, and for whatever reason he answers. On the other line is his estranged sister, Maggie (Kim Allen), who reluctantly asks him to watch over her daughter, Sophia (Fatima Ptacek). Richie agrees, hoists himself out of the tub, and embarks on a coming-of-age journey that culminates in an elaborate dance sequence in a Brooklyn bowling alley—not exactly the stuff of tragedy.
Sophia, played with charisma and confidence by Ptacek, proves a precocious squirt who shakes Richie out of his funk, aiming all manner of quips and questions his way. In particular, she wants to know why he and her mother don't speak to each other. Richie begrudgingly reveals why—he's got a history of drug addiction for starters, but the proverbial last straw came when he dropped Sophia on her head when she was just an infant. His dark secrets are met unblinkingly, with the sort of nonjudgment of which only a child is capable.
Moments like these are pleasant, but the film lacks thematic consistency: after the shock of its opening moments, Curfew cops out, inching toward a predictable denouement. There's something to be said for a filmmaker who can blend multiple moods and tones in a single work, but for Christensen to open this straightforward film with such a disturbingly graphic image doesn't speak highly of his confidence as a director. Rather than stand by the material, it's as if he had to trick his audience into engaging with the film. Even if Christensen had embraced his coming-of-age premise from the get-go, Curfew would be one of the weaker efforts in this year's crop of nominees. But he'd at least have maintained some credibility as a storyteller.