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Black Wine (2005)

Rating: 3 1/2 stars

D: Ryan Rossell. Anson Scoville, Jennifer Marlowe, Billy Cook, Roland Sands, Jack Gwaltney, Ryan Rossell. 87 mins. (Indican Pictures) 6/08

It's difficult to describe this brilliant dark fable about rage, deceit and dissolving relationships without drifting into serious spoiler territory. Suffice it to say that, faint echoes of American Psycho and Pretty Poison aside, Black Wine reps a refreshingly original, mature work (despite its creators' youth) that consistently defies expectations without straying from its own carefully delineated nightmare logic. Control freak/yuppie law student Trevor (Scoville) is about to deliver a moonlight marriage proposal to live-in squeeze Ashley (Marlowe) when the romantic moment is ruined (to put it mildly) by the presence of a gun-wielding mugger. In the subsequent struggle, Trevor manages to grab the gat and empty it into his surprised attacker. Trevor knows enough about the law to realize his massive retaliation could be construed as manslaughter rather than simple self-defense and so swears Ashley to secrecy. But can their union survive this terrible burden? Can they? Black Wine can be enjoyed on two levels-as a gripping, unpredictable thriller and as a metaphor for an unraveling relationship. Writer/director Rossell, who also surfaces onscreen in a small role as Trevor's best bud, has constructed a nearly flawless, exquisitely detailed but unselfconscious exercise in intense irony that deserves cult status. The acting is spot-on, particularly a remarkable Marlowe's strenuous perf, which compels the actress to utilize the entire thespian palette, while Andrew Mullen's score perfectly reflects the tale's changing moods, and Rossell makes effective use of his NYC locations despite obvious budgetary restrictions. And wait till you dig the piranha scene. (We can say no more.) Extras include cast and crew interviews, an audio commentary, a featurette on the music, stills gallery and bonus trailers. Black Wine provides a potent cocktail that packs a truly unforgettable punch.

~ The Phantom