Recently divorced and heartbroken, Tess finds herself abandoned at a bar on a night out. There she encounters the eccentric and rich Peter – a man cursed with the condition of heightened sensory perception and desperately searching for a moment’s peace. The two instantly fall in love and withdraw to Peter’s apartment for a lengthy and addicting love affair. Days of bliss pass by but when Tess realizes she should leave and resume her life, Peter proposes a dangerous idea – isolate each other in his apartment to create their own pure reality; one free of pain and the dictates of society. Now, cut off from the world and locked inside what Peter calls Candiland, the lovers embark on a dogmatic quest for a higher existence. But slowly, they begin to descend into madness – turning the once lovers into mortal enemies.
I recently had the opportunity to screen this indie film based on the book by Elizabeth Engstrom and produced by Motorcycle Boy Productions. Additionally, I interviewed the two leads, James Clayton and Chelah Horsdal, and I knew that in screening this film, I would be stepping further outside my comfort zone than I ever had before. And that is entirely correct. I am not a fan of psychological thrillers as a rule–except Hitchcock, if you can call some of his films that–but I was determined to go in with the mindset of a reviewer. I do want to warn you that if you are offended by gratuitous sex (no nudity, thankfully) or superfluous profanity, you may wish to skip this film. On one level, I could have done without either of those. However, I set aside all that for the purposes of the review, and the remainder of this review will be spent on the content and acting from an artistic standpoint.
From the beginning, Peter (played by James Clayton) and Tess (played by Chelah Horsdal) were absolutely captivating. The world their characters concocted was totally nonsensical with plenty of off-the-wall humor at times. The energy that James and Chelah brought to their roles was extraordinary. Within the confines of the world they had created, they were at liberty to do whatever struck their fancy. They played games, and I was grateful for the lightness that they were able to inject into this dark story. While the joviality was short-lived, it was truly a time to bask in the joy of finding someone who truly accepts you as you are. That is what they both wanted. Once in awhile, the horrors of their past existence came back to haunt them. I think that the scene involving a flashback to Tess’ unborn baby was one of the most disturbing, but exceptionally spectacular. I found myself relating moderately to Tess and the situation that brought her to Peter. My first marriage failed, and my husband was a control freak. Then I moved on to someone who seemed normal, but was equally as unwell and controlling as my ex-husband. Unlike Tess, though, I did not permit the madness to infiltrate my world.
As I watched the progressive and demented change of Peter’s character, I couldn’t help but think of my ex-husband. James played this character so convincingly, and when he explained in his interview that he lost all that weight for this character, I was even more impressed with how much he immersed himself into this role and how much he invested to the point that he could have injured himself. Yes, brilliant, but ill-advised. As a result of witnessing the character of Peter, I realized that had I remained in my marriage, my then-husband could have become exactly like Peter. For all I know, he has. In spite of the fact that he becomes sadistic, I was fascinated with Peter. There is one part that was particularly difficult to watch due to the fact that his character treated Tess in a way that is unspeakably savage. On this flip side, she exacts a sort of revenge. Witnessing the use of sex as a weapon is something I know about minimally, but thankfully never to that degree. Just know that the behavior he exhibited was immensely disturbing.
As for Tess, I felt that it took a bit longer for her to lose touch with reality. Chelah expressed the fact that this role scared her and that’s why she did it. And she was absolutely incredible! I found myself so awed by her in the end that in spite of the fact that her character had lost touch with reality and conscience, I couldn’t hate Tess. Chelah portrayed Tess in such a genial fashion with a touch of pity. She was merely searching for love, but Peter began to push her beyond the edge. And before she knew it, she has crossed over into the territory that “normal” human beings wouldn’t consider embracing. But because she has bought into Peter’s world and she loves him so desperately, she will do anything, even step beyond moral decency, to be with this man who is the only one whom she feels loves her for who she is. Chelah tackled this role and conquered it in her indomitable style, and all I could say was, “I am so grateful I never let any of the maladjusted men in my life take me that far down the path of no return.” When common sense and decency leave, anything is possible. Don’t ever delude yourself into believing you would never do this or that, no matter how heinous the act.
In addition to James and Chelah, I also want to mention Gary Busey, who infused life into Peter’s (James’ character) father. While we may not have the full and complete story regarding the family dynamics, it would seem that Gary’s character, Arnie, loved his son–maybe even more than he should. He and his son have had a falling out due to Peter’s mother’s death, but even so, Arnie could see what’s in the cards for Peter. He knew that Peter was slowly destroying himself, and Arnie would rather set aside any chance of happiness in his own life in order to save Peter from himself. Peter jokingly refers to Gary as “God” because he is constantly trying to get Peter to do the right thing and face his responsibilities within the material world. Peter, on the other hand, wants nothing to do with his father. Gary portrayed Arnie in such a genuine way (we are talking about an award-winning actor after all), and all I wanted was for Arnie to save these young people from themselves. But sometimes I felt that Arnie was too overbearing. Since his wife was dead, he was trying too hard to save Peter, and sometimes that can alienate one’s child. And in this case it did.
So what ultimately happens? You will have to watch the film to ascertain the answer to that. There are many well-known actors with Hallmark and other network credits in this production: David Lewis, Lori Triolo, Blaine Anderson, James Hutson, and so on. While you may not necessarily recognize the names , you’ll probably recognize them on screen or recognize the works in which they have appeared. For me, even though the story was a bit freaky, the caliber of the acting was so phenomenal that in the end, I was glad I had the opportunity to watch this. I would recommend not watching it right before you go to bed, nor on a dark and stormy night, but if you can stomach the few things I mentioned, you will probably find, like I did, that this film will cause you to consider just how far one can go searching for love and utopia as well as the depth of human depravity. Furthermore, you will see the scope of untreated mental illness which may be brought on by a tragic event in one’s life, or it may even be hereditary. If Peter, Tess, and Arnie had received professional help in their time of need (I went to a therapist after my divorce), it boggles the mind to comprehend where they may have ended up instead. Moreover, the acting in this film is stellar; it’s worth overlooking everything else merely to see that.
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