Not all cinematic psychos are so obvious with their psychoses. Sure, it doesn't take a team of psychiatrists to figure out that Jason Voorhees is a lunatic (and probably a zombie), and even the classier psychos like Hannibal Lecter are still plainly and obviously unhinged. (It's in his eyes.) But there's a distinct sub-genre of horror / thrillers that look like simple, low-key character studies on the surface, but are actually "about" the sad, disturbing, and creepily matter-of-fact idea that, well, sometimes men go insane. Taking a bit of its inspiration from Taxi Driver, but also slightly reminiscent of arthouse chillers like Keane and Clean, Shaven, Charles de Lauzirika's debut feature Crave is a slow-build character study that seems a bit aimless at times, but really starts to gel into something smart, subtle, and satisfying when all is said and done.
If the name of the first-time director / co-writer sounds familiar, that's because Mr. de Lauzirika has spent most of his career producing DVD supplements. That might not sound all that exciting until you realize that this guy and his colleagues put together the "extra goodies" for titles like Blade Runner, Spider-Man, Alien, Speed, and Gladiator. (He's done a lot of stuff for Ridley Scott's films in particular.) As far as DVD producers go, this guy is one of the best, which makes it doubly interesting to sit down with his first narrative feature; after being a "fly on the wall" filmmaker for so many years, a smart guy is bound to glean hundreds of lessons from every facet of the filmmaking game, and while Crave is a quietly unsettling character piece with only a few (legitimately effective) moments of visual horror, there's also a lot to like from this smoothly confident little indie.
Aiden (Josh Lawson, excellent) is a pretty generic guy on the surface. He works as a crime scene photographer, which gives him access to all sorts of horrible stuff, but Aiden seems pretty well-adjusted, all things considered. At the start. We learn a bit about our main character through his exchanges with a sarcastic yet friendly police detective (Ron Perlman, who adds welcome color and humanity in his every scene) and through his early efforts at romance with a pretty gal down the hall named Virginia (Emma Lung, also excellent) -- but we're also privy to Aiden's random and frequently disturbing inner monologue, and based on the deliberately-paced but clever first act, we have an idea where this is all headed: Aiden is losing his mind, and we're allowed to watch.
Some of Aiden's early fantasies are based on typical stresses we all deal with; who hasn't dreamed of punching that pretentious theater-going couple in the face after suffering through five minutes of their loud blather? But once the director (and co-writer Robert Lawton) get us to feel a little kinship to our unhappy protagonist, things start to go a little sour. Does that friendly cop suspect Aiden of something bad? Does that pretty girl down the hall even remember Aiden's name? De Lauzirika seems to be having some fun with his audience here. We sort of want to see Aiden lose his mind and do violent things. Because this is an ostensibly creepy movie, but because the dialogue rings true and the performers are simply great, we also want to see things work out for Aiden and Virginia.
But that's probably not going to happen.
Boasting some strong special effects and some unexpectedly fine cinematography, Crave feels a bit like watching car crash in slow motion. You barely know the people involved, but they seem strangely familiar. You can see the painful collision coming from a half-block away, but of course you're helpless to watch as the impact occurs. It starts out slow and simple but gradually expands into something of legitimate pain and fear, and because you're human, you just find it hard to look away.