Widow (2009)

Is she losing her mind or is the truth even more terrifying than she could ever imagine?
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When watching and reviewing indie genre films, I've often found myself inclined to be pretty charitable. I know how hard it is to get films written and made, and to an extent, I take this into consideration. But that tolerance can only be taken so far - as a film fan, I want to get something out of the films I watch irrespective of their budgets or the problems faced in getting there, and the presence of so many absolute gems also made on a shoestring makes it problematic to let other filmmakers off the hook so easily. This is, of course, a disclaimer. Widow (2009) is an indie horror/thriller which did not work for me.

Vivian Potts (Cindy Maples) has just lost her husband, Alex. As she goes through the motions of the funeral and getting to grips with life after his death, she is obviously struggling to keep it together - making phonecalls she can't remember, having the sorts of nightmares you get in films where the person sits bolt upright with a gasp... One of the phonecalls she made was to her somewhat estranged sister, Sherry (Kim Welsh), who nevertheless comes to stay with her to help her cope. She was sent packing from the funeral, and obviously had some sort of dodgy financial dealings with Vivian and Alex in the past, but Vivian tolerates her being there - especially when she starts having nightmares about Alex, too. When he appears, Alex keeps saying, 'I have to tell you something'. But what? The only thing to do is to spend the rest of the film keeping a dream diary, to be collated (or the attempt made) at a later point. Meanwhile, Vivian takes her mind off things by having a series of awkward dates with the bloke who comes to mow the lawn, has some flashbacks which seem to point to child abuse, and enjoys several significant rows with her sister.

This is essentially it for the first hour of the film. Neither action nor plot progression figure highly here, and, though I'm all for mood pieces where emotion and intent carry the film along, that doesn't happen here either. This is because the most basic building blocks of performance and characterisation are not in place. Vivian's mental confusion is communicated chiefly by long pauses and a fixed expression, whereas her sister seems to be overcompensating for Vivian's hopeless state by grossly overacting, over-emphasising every word and gesture. I appreciate that neither actresses are especially experienced in film roles, but the combined effect of their, shall we say, "different styles" made for uncomfortable viewing. This is also in many ways a bizarrely-shot film: the actors are not helped by continually having the camera filming the backs of their heads, and although there is a certain sense of ambition in the inclusion of dream sequences, these stylistics feel ill-at-ease where there is a lack of basic plot and performance to sustain these forays into more adventurous territory.

And then there's the script. Why the repetition of dialogue? - I couldn't be sure if this was deliberate or not, but for example hearing, "Alex always took care of that" and "I'm still having dreams" more than once felt like mistakes had been made with writing. There are also some genuine howlers in here - delivered absolutely straight: such as "So, he's gonna do your lawn, huh? Maybe after that he can do mine. Then, he can take care of our boxes". Call me picky, but that sort of dialogue builds a rather different sort of unsettling atmosphere, as does someone exaggeratedly delivering the line "Mmm, yummy" during a sex scene...

Also, people do not tend to stop knife fights to answer the telephone. Just saying.

There's some ambition here, but Widow's unsophisticated and ponderous handling prevents that ambition from really coming to the fore. The concluding scenes - albeit with an overused "twist" - do some work to redeem the plot-lite hour that went before, but sadly it still isn't enough to render this one a winner.
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